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Fairtrade speciality grade coffee results from innovative Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund (FRICH) project to develop new quality coffees from marginalised African producers.

Sopacdi Fairtrade Ground Coffee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will launch in Sainsbury’s as part of their Taste the Difference range following a three-year project supported by DFID and Comic Relief and managed by a consortium of commercial and non-profit partners. Twin, the ethical trading organisation working with smallholders in Africa and Latin America, joined forces with Sainsbury’s and the roasters Finlays to develop new origins from the DRC and Malawi. The unique collaboration brings together a wealth of industry expertise to support marginalised producers with training and new facilities to improve quality with a commitment to developing and launching an end product.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: “This new Fairtrade coffee from Sainsbury’s is an excellent example of how British companies are joining the development push. Making sure farmers get a fair price for their goods can ultimately help end aid dependency through jobs and growth.”

Sopacdi is at the forefront of a coffee revival in the DRC’s war ravaged eastern highlands, where the rich soils and altitudes create ideal conditions for premium-grade Arabica production. Due to economic mismanagement, coffee exports declined following independence and collapsed when civil war split the region along ethnic lines, sparked by the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Unable to sell their crops at a fair price and desperate for money, many producers had little choice but to smuggle their coffee across Lake Kivu into Rwanda to trade, thousands drowning in the attempt. This tragedy, in combination with the conflict, has left behind countless coffee widows struggling to earn a living.

From the outset, Sopacdi’s mission has been to promote unity amongst its members and has achieved representation from all ethnic groups on its Board. The cooperative’s ongoing quality drive and access to value-added international markets has also brought economic development to the region, further contributing to stability. To support female empowerment programmes, Sopacdi adds 2 cents/lb on the sale of its coffee, to date raising around $15,000 to support a women’s committee and small business ventures run by women.  Money from the Fairtrade premium goes to fund much needed renovation work to improve processing facilities and increase productivity and quality.

Cecile Batumike, Sopacdi member, said “I had to bribe the police to be able to cross to Rwanda by boat. I saw boats sink because the waves were huge.  Many people in my village died that way leaving their children orphans and without any kind of assistance. With the income from the sale of our coffee, we are now able to send our children to school, we are able to feed our families and we are proud to know that our coffee is being sold in the international market.”

Twin began work with Sopacdi in 2008; supporting the cooperative with capacity building and accessing international markets, as well as pushing for special measures to allow Fairtrade certification in the conflict zone. Sopacdi subsequently became the first cooperative in the DRC to achieve Fairtrade and organic certification, adding further value to exports. Twin also works to generate demand on the market side. Sopacdi is a member of Twin’s Joint Marketing Initiative (JMI); a network of 12 East African producer organisations working together to market their coffees more effectively. Over the last year, JMI has accompanied Sopacdi to the African Fine Coffee Association (AFCA) and Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) trade fairs, providing a unique platform for the cooperative to meet with buyers.

Nicolas Mounard, Managing Director of Twin, says: “It’s inspiring to see what the farmers call ‘green gold’ bring green shoots of change, especially among women members who have faced such extraordinary challenges. But beyond this great story is truly great tasting coffee, which is essential for ensuring long-term, transformational change.”

Laura Falk, Ethical Trade Coordinator at Sainsbury’s, says: “The partnership has proven incredibly fruitful, delivering two new single origin coffees with excellent cupping results. We have already entered into a second FRICH partnership with Twin and Finlays, this time working with two Congolese cooperatives; Sopacdi and Muungano. The focus on quality is key – the exciting next step will see tasting labs and quality control measures introduced.”

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