In the Democratic Republic of Congo, SOPACDI coffee cooperative gets help from UMCOR’s Hope’s Blend proceeds and Equal Exchange to take its next step in quality assurance.
Beth Ann Caspersen
By Julia Kayser*
May 9, 2013—Equal Exchange is a fair-trade, worker-owned cooperative that specializes in coffee. It’s been a loyal partner with UMCOR for more than 10 years. Last year, Equal Exchange created a blend of coffee specifically with United Methodist fellowship halls in mind. It’s called Hope’s Blend, and part of the proceeds from its sale goes to support small-scale farming and quality assurance in Africa.
One of the communities that has benefited from the sale of Hope’s Blend is the SOPACDI cooperative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When Joachim Munganga founded SOPACDI in 2002, the country’s economic collapse was forcing most growers in the area to smuggle their coffee across Lake Kivu into Rwanda. Many Congolese farmers lost their lives just trying to get paid for their crop.
In order to escape this pattern of violence, SOPACDI had to access the international market, which required improved quality control systems. In 2008, the British organization Twin helped the co-op build a new central coffee washing station. And in 2012, with help from UMCOR, Twin and Equal Exchange helped the SOPACDI co-op take its next step in quality assurance.
Beth Ann Caspersen, quality control manager at Equal Exchange, says: “Thanks to our grant from UMCOR, I was able to help the SOPACDI cooperative identify a future coffee cupper and quality manager. His name is Dunia Muhindo Moise.”
In order to find Moise, Caspersen traveled to the DRC and put sixteen young candidates to the test. “Our first day focused on the basics of flavor through tasting and smelling exercises,” Caspersen writes in an article for the May/June 2013 issue of Roast Magazine. “The selection process culminated in a series of exams to test their aroma memory recall, basic flavors and flavor identification in both defective and amazing coffee.”
Cuppers have to be able to consistently differentiate and describe tastes. Caspersen is proud to report that Moise “has a great palate for tasting.” Next month, with funding from UMCOR, he will travel to the United States for additional training in the Equal Exchange Quality Control Laboratory.
Today the SOPACDI co-op has more than 5,600 farmers, more than fifteen percent of whom are women. Equal Exchange is so confident in SOPACDI’s crop that they now sell it as a single-origin offering instead of in a blend. UMCOR is proud to partner with both Equal Exchange and SOPACDI. We stand with smallholder farmers in the DRC and everywhere.
You can buy fair-trade coffee through the UMCOR Coffee Project at Equal Exchange’s new online store. When you do, a portion of the proceeds support UMCOR’s Sustainable agriculture and Development programs (UMCOR SA&D). You can also support smallholder farmers directly through UMCOR SA&D, Advance #982188.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.