Name: Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union
Location: Shebedino Woreda, Sidama Zone, Ethiopia
Number of Producers: 85,000
Co-op Name: SOPACDI
Location: South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Number of Producers: 5,200; 20% are women farmers
Certified: Organic, Fair Trade
Elevation: 1460 to over 2000 MASL
Find SOPACDI coffee in these blends: Congo Coffee Project, Organic African Roots, Organic Cold Brew
Last visit by Equal Exchange: Quality Control Manger Beth Ann Caspersen visited SOPACDI in November 2014 to visit the coffee farmers, to learn about the women’s groups in each community, and to provide intermediate coffee cupper training to Dunia Moises Muhindo through our ongoing efforts to build capacity in the co-op’s quality control team.
Fun Fact: For every pound of coffee that Equal Exchange buys, two cents are put aside for the SOPACDI’s women’s group to engage in various activities of their choosing. One group decided to buy a motorcycle and have a rent-to-own program with a local driver. Another group purchased equipment to produce flour and after it became too difficult to manage, they decided to sell it and today they are re-investing the money into goats. Livestock is very important to the Congolese people and although they do not have enough money to buy goats for all the women, they are starting with one goat to be cared for among three women. Goats reproduce approximately two times per year, so within a year, the other two women should have baby goats to call their own.
Solidarite Paysanne la Promotion de Actions Café et Development Integras, known as SOPACDI, has more than 5,200 members divided into 10 primary societies. Equal Exchange began sourcing coffee from SOPACDI in 2011, through the Congo Coffee Project, a product that directly benefits the Panzi Hospital.
The co-op has been a leader in war-torn DRC and was on a positive path for developing their quality, but they were in need of a coffee cupper to further direct their specialty coffee efforts. In 2012, Equal Exchange Quality Control Manager Beth Ann traveled to the DRC and spent three full days working with eight men and women to determine their natural and learned abilities in coffee quality. At the end of this intensive seminar, Dunia Moises Muhindo was selected from the group as the new coffee cupper for SOPACDI. Moises is the son of coffee farmers in the co-op and the oldest of 10 children. He has since attended various coffee trainings, including a cross-cultural coffee training led by Beth Ann at Gumutindo Co-op in Uganda in 2013, and another training with Beth Ann back at SOPACDI in November 2014.
Special thanks to Twin Trading in the UK for their ongoing work with SOPACDI and to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) who supported these coffee quality capacity building workshops with the funds they raised through the Equal Exchange Small Farmer Fund program.
SOPACDI is located in Kivu, DRC, an area that has been wracked by ethnic- and gender-based violence that has destroyed the local economy and all but virtually extinguished the coffee sector. Coffee used to play an important role in the economy, however, years of warring factions and low prices gave the farmers little hope.
Economic collapse has forced many Congolese to smuggle coffee into Rwanda by traveling across Lake Kivu and engage in 'Troc', a bartering system used to get animals, other food products and supplies. This was one of the only ways to get anything for coffee due to the low prices offered in the DRC.
Smuggling the coffee is very dangerous activity, and as a result, many people have lost their lives trying to get a better price and access to any market they can. The lack of businesses and income generating activity has pushed the DRC into deeper turmoil and this has had violent repercussions. Decades of insecurity, fallout from the Rwandan genocide and the Congo civil war has left the coffee sector neglected or abandoned. Due to these circumstances, most of the coffee produced is coming from small coffee farmers that with old or rudimentary equipment and little access to international markets.
Coffee is the answer
In 2002, Joachim Munganga founded SOPACDI as a means to bridge ethnic strife and to tap into the international specialty coffee market. He wanted to focus on connecting people and creating incomes through coffee. He started with his own farm, and with his uncle, Albert Ngaboyeka, worked to rehabilitate an old, run down estate with a central washing station for the co-op to process coffee. When SOPACDI connected with Twin Trading in the UK in 2008, SOPACDI began to access the international coffee market. Twin designed and obtained funding for a program to assist them with business skills and to begin rehabilitating the farms and improving the infrastructure, including building the first new central coffee washing station in the country in over forty years.
"We didn't really know what a co-op was or what it would look like. Twin Trading has been there, encouraging the farmers to grow coffee and getting things started again," said Joachim Munganga.
It is important to recognize the pivotal role that our friends at Twin Trading have played in helping SOPACDI to organize as a co-operative and to work tirelessly to improve production and infrastructure at the co-op. The DRC is a difficult place to work and our alliance with Twin has helped to connect Equal Exchange with this incredible work. Our friend and ally, Richard Hide from Twin, has been instrumental in the development of this co-op and as I listened to Richard reflect on this experience, which he called "the most extraordinary experience of my life in coffee," I could see the deep bonds of friendship and admiration between Joachim and Richard. So much has been accomplished, yet there is so much more that needs to be done.
From inception, SOPACDI’s aim has been to bridge ethnic groups and to produce the highest quality coffee possible. Each year the membership of SOPACDI grows and today, SOPACDI has more than 5,200 farmers in the co-op, speaking a variety of languages, including Kirundi, Kihavu, Kinyarwanda, Swahili and French. Over 20% of the members are women, many of these women are widows, some who lost their husbands as they tried to smuggle and barter coffee across the lake to Rwanda. However, the women are working to find their voices in the co-operative; many participate in co-operative meetings and have been very vocal about their situations as mothers, widows and farmers.
Support women in the D.R. Congo through our Congo Coffee Project, in collaboration with the Panzi Foundation.