Con­golese co­coa waits for peace to pur­sue sweet fu­ture

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

MBAU, DR Congo: An­toine Kakule Ki­hu­muledi longs for a car to trans­port his co­coa crop and, like fel­low res­i­dents in the Beni re­gion in east­ern Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo, he wants peace so he can pur­sue his dreams. Kakule, 51, is a pi­o­neer in cul­ti­vat­ing co­coa in this area of Nord Kivu prov­ince, which has been rav­aged by war and vi­o­lence for two decades. He be­gan plant­ing in the mid­dle of the Sec­ond Congo War (1998-2003) and had his first har­vest some­time around 2007.

With the help of a sickle mounted at the end of a long shaft, the fa­ther of six chil­dren cuts the yel­low and or­ange pods from the co­coa trees which grow on his plan­ta­tion in Mbau, some 25 kilo­me­tres (15 miles) to the north of the town of Beni. But for the past two years the re­gion has been af­flicted with waves of mas­sacres that have killed 700 civil­ians, mostly hacked to death.

Con­golese of­fi­cials have blamed the at­tacks on the Al­lied Demo­cratic Forces (ADF), a group of rebels dom­i­nated by pu­ri­tan­i­cal Ugan­dan Mus­lims, but sev­eral ex­pert re­ports have sug­gested that other groups, in­clud­ing el­e­ments within the Con­golese army, took part in some killings. The inse­cu­rity in the re­gion is hin­der­ing the po­ten­tial for co­coa cul­ti­va­tion to open a way for “an agri­cul­tural mid­dle class to emerge,” said Jac­ques Ma­tumo, ad­min­is­tra­tor for ESCO Kivu, a lo­cal co­coa com­pany. “We lost a lot of grow­ers” in the mas­sacres, he said. Some who sur­vived “aban­doned their fields” and their crops rot­ted, if they weren’t stolen first, he added.

Cof­fee Sub­sti­tute

Kakule says he feels safe as the Con­golese army is sta­tioned nearby, but ad­mits he doesn’t dare ven­ture fur­ther than their out­post. In a coun­try where the UN es­ti­mates nearly nine out of 10 peo­ple are liv­ing on less than $1.25 per day, Kakule con­sid­ers him­self for­tu­nate. He feeds his fam­ily with cas­sava and veg­eta­bles grown on his farm, and the co­coa is a cash crop. Af­ter the co­coa pods are cut open, the pulp is left to fer­ment, dur­ing which it liq­ue­fies and drains away to ex­pose the beans that are then dried un­der the sun. The dried beans are sold and even­tu­ally ex­ported.

“The money al­lows me to school my chil­dren, pay for their med­i­cal care and un­der­take projects, such as build­ing a new house,” Kakule said. He is par­tic­u­larly proud of his daugh­ter, who has just re­ceived her teach­ing de­gree. Like much of the other nat­u­ral re­sources and crops in DR Congo, one of the least de­vel­oped na­tions on the planet, co­coa is not pro­cessed inside the coun­try.

In 2015, Kakule sold 1,200 ki­los of co­coa beans at a price above $2.00 per kilo. But world co­coa prices have fallen this year, and farm­ers are now sell­ing their beans for be­tween $1.60 and $2.00 per kilo de­pend­ing on the qual­ity. That Kakule can to­day set his sights on buy­ing a car to trans­port his crop is some­thing of a dream come true, and due to a chance en­counter with the ESCO Kivu com­pany. In 1998 the firm, which had long been present in Beni, de­cided to ex­per­i­ment with co­coa cul­ti­va­tion.

The orig­i­nal idea was to find a re­place­ment to two crops which had tra­di­tion­ally been grown in the re­gion for ex­port: qui­nine bark and cof­fee. De­mand for the bark used to make the an­ti­malar­ial drug qui­nine was drop­ping while cof­fee out­put was hit by a fun­gus out­break. The ex­per­i­ment was a suc­cess: the soil in the Beni re­gion was suit­able for co­coa trees and the dry sea­son wasn’t too long.

With­out any lo­cal de­mand for co­coa beans, the com­pany “cre­ated the mar­ket” by pro­vid­ing farm­ers with a guar­an­tee their crop would be pur­chased, said Ma­tumo. ESCO does not farm it­self. In­stead it pro­vides in­de­pen­dent farm­ers with tech­ni­cal sup­port, in­clud­ing the help of agron­o­mists, and then buys their co­coa beans to sell to Europe and the United States.

Eco­nomic Re­vival

ESCO em­ploys around 200 peo­ple and works in part­ner­ship with some 29,000 grow­ers. One ex­ec­u­tive at its fac­tory, who asked not to be named, said he made around $700 a month. Its prod­uct is cer­ti­fied UTZ, a la­bel guar­an­tee­ing a mode of pro­duc­tion that is sus­tain­able and mind­ful of the well-be­ing of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion and the preservation of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. To­day ESCO has a hand­ful of small com­peti­tors fol­low­ing in its foot­steps.

For Cleophas Paluku Ka­hongya, pres­i­dent of the Busi­ness Fed­er­a­tion of Congo (FEC) in Beni, “co­coa has con­trib­uted greatly to the re­vival of the lo­cal econ­omy”. But an­other ma­jor prob­lem is tax eva­sion. In 2015, about 9,000 tonnes out of an es­ti­mated to­tal of 20,000 tonnes were ex­ported se­cretly to Uganda to avoid Con­golese taxes, Paluku said.

This photo taken on Nov 15, 2016 shows a worker sort­ing co­coa beans at the ESCO Kivu co­coa pro­cess­ing plant in Beni.


MBAU, Uganda: This photo taken on Nov 15, 2016 at his farm shows An­toine Kakule Ki­hu­muledi (right), a co­coa farmer, open­ing co­coa pods to col­lect co­coa beans.

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