Editor’s Note: this blog post originally appeared on the blog of IRI’s parent organization, Congo Initiative, on 16 May, 2017.
Coffee is DR Congo’s number one agricultural export in terms of both revenue and volume. Endowed with a favorable climate, rich soil, and abundant rainfall, DRC has the environmental conditions to produce some of the best coffees in the world. Despite its promise, DRC’s coffee sector has yet to fulfill its potential. But, that could be changing and UCBC’s Agribusiness Center is helping in the effort to revitalize the coffee sector.
From the colonial era onwards, coffee exports provided the backbone of North Kivu’s economy, the province where Beni and UCBC reside. However, in the late 1980s the proliferation of coffee wilt disease (tracheomycosis) resulted in a severe downturn in production. The subsequent wars between 1996 and 2003 further depressed the market and destabilized both producers and exporters. Ongoing violence and insecurity has further compounded the challenges of DRC’s coffee sector resulting in a weak economy, complex logistics and supply chains, problematic or non-existent critical infrastructure, and ineffective governance including onerous formal and informal tax and regulatory burdens. These factors resulted in DRC’s official coffee production falling from about 130,000 metric tons in the 1980s to about 20,000 metric tons in 2014, according to CoffeeLac, a major exporter of Congolese coffee.
While there are significant challenges in revitalizing DRC’s coffee sector, there’s a lot of opportunities for both local production and consumption of coffee as well as the exportation of coffee internationally. Global coffee consumption is on the rise at a growth rate of 1.3%, meaning DRC has the potential capacity to make a big play in supplying Robusta and specialty grade Arabica to meet increasing global demand.
“DRC needs people specialized in the management of agricultural values chains like those receiving training at UCBC.”
Earlier this year, over thirty guests from local and international agricultural sector met at UCBC for workshops with students and teachers on these agricultural values chains and new perspectives on agribusiness in Beni and Lubero territories. Mr. Ivan Godfroid, director of VECO R.D. Congo, explained how local farmers face diverse and unique challenges.
“The coffee we produce locally has a lot of potential to help the economy of the region rise. The biggest issue with local producers is not only the transformation of crops into end products, but also the means of taking products from production areas to markets. The producer often loses and ends up earning less than what he/she invests,” he said.
In response to these challenges, the workshop discussed the organization of producers into cooperatives, identifying existing markets, and the development of research and training through universities like UCBC.
“DRC needs people specialized in the management of agricultural values chains like those receiving training at UCBC,” Godfroid said.
UCBC’s agribusiness program seeks to empower young students and aspiring agribusiness entrepreneurs through an agribusiness curriculum. Partner Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) is a key supporter, providing scholarships to 10 female agribusiness female students in an effort to also promote women studies in agribusiness.
“An opportunity like this was a real need for students in the domain. Today, I can understand and envision what I am becoming through my training in agribusiness at UCBC. Before these workshops, I could not imagine how coffee or cocoa can be produced locally and transform someone’s life,” explained Hekima Kalumbi, one of UCBC’s agribusiness students. Kalumbi has already started a small business of selling retail coffee and cocoa on UCBC’s campus.
The Center is also collaborating on a project led by ECI and Élan-RDC that will result in an interactive DRC Coffee Atlas dashboard containing coffee-related maps, data and cupping information. The dashboard will help promote outside investment and interest in DRC’s coffee sector. Moreover, in an effort to increase the percentage of Congo-captured value in the coffee value chain, ultimately improving livelihoods in DRC, the Center is expanding research on the domestic market for coffee.
In late May, the 3rd annual Saveur du Kivu (Kivu Flavor) will take place in order to celebrate the reemergence of DRC’s specialty coffee sector which has the potential to play a crucial role in DRC’s economic stability. The event demonstrates the possibilities achieved through collaborative efforts and partnerships, but also, the important role UCBC’s Agribusiness Center and future agribusiness leaders play in helping revitalize the coffee sector in Congo.
 International Trade Centre. “Country Brief: Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Accessed: 31 March, 2017. Available: http://www.intracen.org/country/democratic-republic-of-the-congo/.
 DRC is ranked 184 out of 189 countries on the ease of doing business, according to the World Bank in 2016. What’s more, DRC is one of the most challenging places to do business ethically.