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

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

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

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

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 2019