Coffee for peace

A local non-government organisation is supporting rural development in Orientale Province in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Called ACIAR (Help for Intercultural Communication and Rural Self-help*), its plan is to revive the coffee sector in the Ituri region as an inclusive response aimed at repairing the social and economic damage caused by a conflict that lasted from 1998 to 2004.

Although international donors, the market and the Congolese authorities recognise the benefits of coffee production, it is difficult for organisations working on such remote and troubled ground  to forge links between producers and the other stakeholders in the sector.

Coffee is one of the many natural resources in Orientale Province, around 1,500 km from Kinshasa, the capital city of DRC. Along with gold, tantalite and precious woods, coffee is highly coveted by neighbouring countries but the Congolese state and local communities today earn only a tiny fraction of the profits that are to be reaped from its production.

Although the inter-ethnic conflict that ravaged the province ended officially nearly ten years ago, the situation remains tense and communities are still finding reconciliation difficult: as recently as  August 2013 renewed fighting broke out between the Congolese regular army and a rebel group in North Kivu, a neighbouring province of Orientale.

The war has had disastrous consequences on the social fabric and the economy of DRC.. Domestic and foreign investors have fled, while infrastructure and skills have largely been destroyed. And despite growth forecasts of over 8% for 2013, the DRC remains at the bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index.

For over 20 years, ACIAR has been planning and implementing programmes to meet the needs of local communities and the priorities of international donors (United Nations and bilateral co-operation agencies). These include the reintegration of former child soldiers into society, the rehabilitation of women victims of sexual violence, microcredit, food security, etc.

But, lacking in resources and with little clout in Kinshasa, ACIAR is struggling to develop and roll out its long-term vision for justice and rural development in the province.

Nonetheless, ACIAR, in conjunction with SHIFT, a consultancy which specialises in fostering cross-sectoral co-operation, has presented a multi-year project for the coffee sector to donors, which it believes will act as a powerful lever for combating poverty.

In the north-east of Ituri, a district of Orientale Province, the majority of farmers depend on coffee for their livelihoods. Most growers tend between 150 and 300 coffee plants on plots that rarely exceed two hectares. They cultivate the popular Arabica variety which, despite recent price fluctuations, is set to enjoy continuing growth in demand.

Since the 1970s, the liberalisation of the coffee market, armed conflicts, the destruction of infrastructure, neglect of coffee plantations and absence of farmers’ organisations have all contributed to a catastrophic decline in coffee output in the region. In 1989 the DRC exported around 120,000 tonnes of coffee–80% of the value of its agricultural exports–but by 2012 this figure had dropped to 10,000 tonnes.

The vast majority of coffee grown in Ituri is exported illegally to Uganda where it is processed into green coffee. Around one third of Uganda’s exports of green coffee are estimated to come from the eastern provinces of the DRC.

Local growers with no other way of getting their harvests to market are forced to accept the exceptionally low prices offered by Ugandan traders. The abysmal state of the roads and the unofficial export duties imposed at the border are just some of the factors preventing growers from selling their crops themselves.

ACIAR’s project, due to start in 2014, aims to get coffee producers back into the value chain by giving them access to more favourable conditions for selling their harvests. Above all, the project aims to improve coffee production by raising awareness and making more widely available the essential tools that cannot be found locally. It also seeks to work closely with the Congolese National Coffee Bureau (ONC) to safeguard exports.

The profits from increased coffee sales as a result of such a cross-sectoral and integrated approach will help communities gain access to basic economic rights, such as education and health care, and contribute to the reconstruction of the province’s social fabric.

The programme is based on an earlier UNDP-funded initiative in 2006-2008 aimed at organising coffee growers and helping them to sell their production. Due to a lack of long-term funding the project was not continued. On the basis of this experience, along with its work with local micro-credit groups  (mutuelles de solidarité) , and because its agronomists have been working with growers for many years on a day-to-day basis, ACIAR is now uniquely placed to accomplish this task. At the same time, it faces the most challenging situation of all–to find financing arrangements and investors.

Caffeine stimulus
During our mission to Ituri in August 2013, there was noticeable excitement about the coffee sector in Orientale Province. Bilateral co-operation agencies, which for years have all been targeting the bulk of their efforts on the Kivu provinces, were sending consultants on assessment missions; a Congolese businessman reopened the only coffee processing plant in Northern Ituri six months ago; an international NGO started constructing coffee washing stations; Ugandan traders, having heard about ACIAR’s initiative, are now contacting us to get hold of exclusive rights to sell the coffee produced under the project; the governor of Orientale Province is holding discussions with foreign investors, and so on. Unfortunately, Ituri has poor telephone and internet connections, the roads are in an appalling state and information is more difficult to disseminate than elsewhere. Consequently, ACIAR has been unable to find accurate details about any of these different initiatives.

A properly co-ordinated strategy is needed to constitute a framework for co-ordinating these various initiatives. For instance, the Strategy Document for the Recovery of the Coffee Sector 2011-2015, adopted by the DRC government, could prove to be the kind of framework required. However, without a co-ordinating structure which is in a position to take a holistic view and bring together growers as well as public and private sector stakeholders, any national strategy will struggle to deliver the hoped-for outcomes. And organisations such as ACIAR, with proven commitment to and expertise in the coffee sector, will remain isolated players.

Note: *Not to be confused with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which runs as part of the Australian government’s development cooperation programmes.


For more on ACIAR, visit



See also

© OECD Observer No 296 Q3 2013

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Editor's choice

  • Success story. Discover the story of this young Ethiopian woman who launched a successful business in the footwear industry and became a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Entrepreneurship.
  • Transports in Asia. The Asian Development Bank advocates sustainable transport in a continent where vehicle ownership is perceived as a sign of social success.
  • Vote for your favourite photograph! This World Bank #EachDayISee photo contest aims to display visual stories from all over the world through which people express what they would like to see changed and improved.
  • Why is investment so low in the euro area? This short IMF blog post gives you an insight into the causes of the euro-zone's drastic decline in investment.
  • Have your say! The UN wants to know what matters most to you: pick six global issues in the list and send it to the United Nations.
  • Clear air and healthy lungs: how to better tackle air pollution. From New Delhi to Accra, millions of people breathe polluted air. A new report examines the World Bank’s experience working to improve air quality.
  • The boring secret of great cities. Plenty of things make a city great but what really makes a difference originates in the structure of municipal government according to the OECD's report "The Metropolitan Century".
  • Guinea gets $37.7 million in extra IMF financing to help combat Ebola
  • Towards an international carbon pricing framework? Designing a unified international carbon pricing system could help to move towards a fully functional low-carbon global economy.
  • Putting the global economy on a more virtuous path. Current potential growth rates are well below pre-crisis levels. To avoid stagnation, governments have to put in place robust structural reforms.
  • World Water Day: 22 March 2015 For World Water Day, UN-Water identifies upcoming challenges and sets the theme for the years to come. In 2015, the theme for World Water Day is Water and Sustainable Development.
  • What drives street-based child labour?The ILO, UNICEF, Save the Children and the Lebanese Ministry of Labour launch a first-ever study assessing the scope and characteristics of the increasingly visible phenomenon of one of the worst forms of child labour.
  • No “Grexit”. Speaking to CNBC, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría says he would do everything to make sure Greece does not leave the euro. "Everybody wants Greece to stay in, everybody wants Greece to prosper and to get out of its short-term morass," he told CNBC. Watch the video.
  • engaging citizens
  • Interested in citizen engagement? The World Bank Group offers a four-week online course which aims to teach how citizens can engage in both policymaking and public service delivery.
  • 2.1 million jobs could be created in Europe by 2018 under the three-year investment plan put forward by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, according to the ILO.
  • Become involved in urban flood risk management. This World Bank two-week online forum gives you the opportunity to discuss how to preserve cities from these natural disasters with experts and development leaders.
  • Promoting decent work for migrant workers.This ILO report highlights the need to ensure decent work for migrants, which is part of the global agenda on sustainable development.
  • Composite leading indicators

Most Popular Articles

Subscribe Now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions


What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Global warming
International conflict

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015