April 24, 2023
Climate-resilient coffee farming is changing lives in DRC
With GEF and LDCF support, Nespresso, IUCN, and TechnoServe are working together to promote more sustainable and resilient coffee farming practices in South Kivu
Antoinette Shabanyere’s 1,800-tree coffee farm in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is at the forefront of efforts by local communities to adapt to climate change.
She is taking part in training to learn how to implement climate-smart coffee practices. Through Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable Quality Program, Shabayere and others like her are learning how to improve productivity and quality while also adopting more climate-smart approaches at her farm.
Many families in the region have seen or directly experienced the damaging effects of landslides on their farms caused by shifting rainfall patterns attributable to climate change. These landslides and other associated impacts threaten both livelihoods and homes. To combat these threats, Shabanyere has learned about and adopted some new techniques to control erosion.
Since the training, some changes in her farming practices are designed to improve soil health and yield through composting, while others will strengthen her coffee trees through pruning, rejuvenation, and weeding. Shabanyere also uses integrated pest and disease management methods to protect her harvest.
Though traditionally in her culture women do not usually plant trees, Shabanyere did just that on her coffee farm – planting 50 Albizia and 50 Markhamia lutea seedlings, which are Indigenous trees used for shade and woodlots. These adaptive farm management responses improve her farm’s resilience to climate change by increasing the amount of shade and reducing impacts on threatened biodiversity.
The changes made on Shabanyere’s farm are a good example of how high quality arabica coffee is providing opportunities for sustainable development in DRC, and how the adoption of relatively simple practices can make the coffee sector more productive, profitable, resilient, and climate- and nature-positive.
This transition is vitally important -- as climate change advances increasingly impact DRC’s vulnerable, rain-fed agricultural system, farmers need to have the knowledge and resources to ensure their farms are resilient in order to protect their livelihoods into the future. In DRC, higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are expected to increase the risks for farming households, including direct crop failures, nutrient leaching, fungal growth, and damage to homes and businesses due to landslides.
Responding to this need, the Global Environment Facility and Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) have funded a partnership between the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Nespresso, and TechnoServe through the project Reviving High Quality Coffee to Stimulate Climate Adaptation in Smallholder Farming Communities Opportunity.
The project was one of the inaugural winners of the GEF Challenge Program for Adaptation Innovation, which encourages innovative solutions to address climate risk in vulnerable countries.
It aims to support the sustainability of smallholder coffee farming households in South Kivu, DRC, while regenerating the ecosystem and protecting biodiversity in the area, including in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
In order to increase resilience to climate change, coffee farming households need the skills and knowledge to apply regenerative agricultural practices that can increase biodiversity, enrich soil health, improve watersheds, and enhance ecosystem services.
Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable Quality Program aims to meet these needs and empower coffee farmers through three pillars: coffee quality, farm productivity, and social and environmental sustainability. Improvements in these areas can boost farmers’ financial security while also helping their communities and protecting nature.
The training that Shabanyere and others in South Kivu have participated in has included topics ranging from coffee nutrition to composting to rejuvenation and pruning. Students have also learned how to integrate pest and disease management into their farming, in addition to learning about weeding and mulching. Other topics have included erosion control and the need to ensure shade management for climate resilience.
Under the program, AAA agronomists — nearly half of them women — recruited from the local communities and trained in adult-learning techniques deliver lessons every month to small, self-selected focal farmer groups of roughly 25 farming households. Farmers learn through this hands-on, field-based training and can see the results of regenerative agricultural techniques by practicing each technique on a demonstration plot. Since 2022, the project has trained more than 4,900 households and established 156 demonstration plots in the Kalehe territory of South Kivu.
The training is helping South Kivu farmers to improve the health of their soil and coffee, increase the amount of shade, contribute to conservation of protected forest areas, and enhance biodiversity and habitat regeneration.
Farmers who adopt regenerative farming practices can see improved quality of their harvested coffee cherry and increases in yield of over 72 percent. By including Nespresso as a partner, the project is also able to promote access to markets, ensuring that these improvements translate to increased incomes for the trained farmers.
“The trainings have taught me good farming practices that will help to sustainably increase my coffee yields and improve the life of my family,” said Munyangali Mutugari, a 55-year-old coffee farmer who has attended training sessions with his wife Vumiliya Shamwesi. “Without this training I would not have been aware that I can make a difference. For me, the demonstration plot and our coffee farmers’ group is an excellent opportunity for us to share about our experiences in the field.”
After adopting regenerative agricultural practices, the Mutugari family has already seen a substantial increase in yield at their farm of 1,500 coffee trees.
The AAA Academy training also includes modules on household decision-making and gender roles. Farmer trainers guide the discussion around the roles of men and women in the household and the coffee supply chains in order to promote gender equality. This dialogue encourages participants’ analysis of how social norms and gender roles can disenfranchise women.
Technoserve, a nonprofit organization which is working in DRC to train coffee farming households and assist cooperatives to help them build competitive farms and businesses, has seen women’s participation in the training result in their becoming more economically empowered as they gain increased decision-making power in their households.
For Shabanyere, the sessions have been transformational. “The gender sessions have changed the lives of my family members,” she said. “These sessions have shed light on the factors of inequality related to gender in households, on the farm and in the community – and the mechanisms for improvement.”
Shabanyere and Mutugari are members of South Kivu’s AMKA Coffee Co-Operative and have benefited from improved market access, as the cooperative began supplying Nespresso under the Reviving Origins Initiative in 2020. Through participation in the AAA Academy under the GEF-funded project, smallholder farming households like theirs are receiving equitable support in alignment with Nespresso’s responsible sourcing approach.
Climate change and nature loss remain a challenge for DRC’s coffee farmers and their communities. But as South Kivu has shown, information on and exposure to regenerative farming practices can open the door to more productive, resilient, and sustainable farms even in uncertain times.