Once upon a time in the DRC, coffee was king.
Formerly the country’s second biggest export, decades of conflict and corruption led to a drastic reduction in coffee exports, despite being one of the most fertile growing regions in the world. But with the help of The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Strengthening Value Chains (SVC) Activity in South Kivu, the coffee industry is returning stronger—and more equitable-- than ever before. The SVC Activity is working to increase household incomes and access to nutrient-rich crops by linking smallholder farmers to strengthened and inclusive value chains and supportive market services.
And thanks to champions like Marcelline Budza, the coffee industry in South Kivu is leading this effort.
For decades, the coffee industry, like virtually every other industry in the DRC, had been virtually all male.
But Marcelline Budza is out to change all of that. As the head of “Rebuild Women’s Hope” (RWH), a nonprofit based in Bukavu, DRC, Budza oversees over 1800 members growing coffee in one of the most fertile coffee growing regions in the world.
Marcelline Budza with Christophe Tocco from USAID DRC. Photo:Jen Peterson/Tetra Tech
The youngest of four girls growing up in war-torn DRC, the economic struggles faced by her own mother inspired Marceline to help women take charge of their lives through economic empowerment.
Now she is partnering with other non-profits in the DRC to leverage economic opportunities for women smallholders on Idjwi Island on the shores of Lake Kivu. Before RWH, women had to smuggle coffee across the water for sale. The organization provides members with the tools and capacity to understand the coffee value chain and has built two washing stations on Idjwi Island, where much of the coffee is grown.
The SVC project has helped Budza access financing through the USAID Development Credit Authority and supported the renegotation of RWH's agreement with Coffee Lac, an international coffee processor and exporter--opening up new opportunities for the women of RWH.
This past year, Budza was awarded the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award for her efforts.
“In the DRC, a woman has been traditionally considered less valuable than a man...she is considered incapable of contributing to her family and community’s needs through dignified work,” said Budza.
“But my purpose was to create Rebuild Women’s Hope to combat this idea and to establish equality between men and women.”
A superior cup of coffee
While Budza has overcame incredible odds just to manage her own small business, in the highly competitive specialty coffee market, its not enough to simply cultivate your crop of beans. You also have to deliver a quality product to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
As the New York Times reported last year in a story highlighting the reemerging DRC coffee industry, specialty coffee makes up 55 percent of the $48 billion US coffee market, representing an incredible opportunity for the DRC.
But even in this crowded industry, Budza's coffee stands out. In 2017, her coffee won the national coffee cupping competition at Saveur de Kivu, a festival celebrating the reemergence of coffee in the DRC. This year the annual conferencewas held in Bukavu, DRC to educate small-scale coffee growers on the international market, introduce agriculture best practices and develop private sector partnerships that strengthen value chains and sustain economic growth.