On an island in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Lake Kivu, row after row of coffee bushes bear a bountiful harvest of berries.
And the primary beneficiaries will be women, as a result of an equity initiative in an industry where women are notoriously marginalised and underpaid.
“While women work the land, they are pushed aside when it comes to harvesting and marketing the crop,” said Marcelline Budza, a 33-year-old entrepreneur.
“That was the source of my disgust.”
Budza founded Rebuild Women’s Hope (RWH) nine years ago with the goal of expanding women’s roles in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s coffee sector.
RWH set its sights on Idjwi, a 300-square-kilometer island in the middle of Lake Kivu that is home to some of the world’s most lauded coffee farms.
Arabica coffee from Idjwi enjoys a global reputation for its richness, which is a result of its cultivation at a high altitude, in dark volcanic soil, and without the use of chemical fertilisers.
“It’s extraordinary,” Daniel Abamungu Cinyabuguma, manager of the Muungano agricultural cooperative in Goma, on the lake’s shore, said.
The berries are harvested, washed, and sorted before fermenting and drying. It is labor-intensive work that has historically been dominated by men in the DRC.
“Men disparage women, claiming that coffee cultivation is not for them,” Budza explained.
“Overcoming prejudice, red tape, tax demands, fraud, and a lack of credit took years of effort that is now being rewarded,” she explained.
At the height of the coffee harvesting season, RWH employs at least 12,000 women.
Women work primarily in coffee processing and office administration and are compensated at the same rate as the nearly 900 men.
“My objectives are being met,” Budza stated. “Women can now smile and be financially self-sufficient.”
Rosette Nyakalala Bisengi, a 24-year-old coffee cultivator and sorter, concurs that conditions have improved.
However, she earns only 2,500 Congolese francs ($1.25) per day and wishes to double that amount.
Nonetheless, she stated, “I have sufficient funds to purchase a goat, a chicken… I send my children to school and purchase clothing for them.”
Each harvest, RWH produces between six and ten containers of coffee, each containing 19 tonnes of coffee. The coffee is sourced from the company’s own fields as well as from a number of small producers.
“In the United States, Europe, and Asia, our coffee is consumed. We achieve excellent results “Budza stated.