SUCCESS STORY: Economic Empowerment Through Community Cocoa Production in DRC
September 15, 2023
Today in the villages of Mibenga and Ilebo, nestled along the edge of the Tumba Lediima Nature Reserve in western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), community members have been working hard to improve the cocoa production in their Community Forests as a way to boost their income while sustainably managing their forest lands. And they have just had their first major success!
Back in 2014, a new law was passed in DRC, which recognised the rights of indigenous and local communities to their forest resources to improve livelihoods. It has been a long journey to implementation, but ultimately, this has paved the way for traditional forest-dependent peoples to become the legal stewards of their ancestral lands.
Through the creation of ‘Community Forests,’ communities can secure their right to protect and manage their forest lands with the traditional knowledge and practices that have preserved them for generations. Building on this legislation, the ‘Forêts d'Avenir project’ was set up as a 5-year initiative to support Community Forests and sustainable livelihoods in DRC.
Mibenga and Ilebo are two of the participating communities, and though the project hasn't been going on for long, already the residents are seeing promising changes. Before the project, income from cocoa production was precarious, as individual farmers were subject to market monopolies from buyers, unstable and changing cocoa prices, and unreliable crop yields.
One of the first things that USAID’s partner Rainforest Foundation United Kingdom (RFUK) and the project partners ASSECCAF and GASHE worked to do was to transform the existing approach of mutual aid and assistance within the communities into an organised management body for cocoa production, to awaken a collective awareness within the community that there is no development without local initiatives and the pooling of efforts to improve production, transformation and trading.
“The very title of the project resonates with our traditions and gives us hope. This can be seen in the enthusiasm of our local community to form associations to improve and strengthen our cocoa production.” Community member.
Through the exchange of experiences, knowledge and capacity-building in organisational terms, the understanding and willingness of the communities to participate in the scheme grew and also led to workshops on how to improve their cultivation, collection, and processing techniques. Farmers learned to adapt their practices so that their crops were more resistant to harsh weather patterns and diseases, avoided pressure on the environment through agroforestry, and produced higher-quality beans that could be sold for better prices. All of these trainings have contributed to a great change in their daily practices, and the communities now feel they are playing a leading role in contributing to the development and protection of their environment.
'We initially thought one of the causes of underproduction of cocoa was drought. But with the support of the project, we realised that we were using rather poor maintenance techniques and that there were also a variety of diseases affecting the crop which we had mistaken for drought. So, we learned how to better maintain our fields, how to fight against pests with organic pesticides, and how to ferment, dry, and store the cocoa to keep it in good condition'. Community member.
ASSECCAF has also run a training session with the communities on the interconnectedness of quantity and quality with market competitiveness. The producers were trained on how to evaluate the quality of the beans and use the result of the evaluation to fix the price of their cocoa. One of the participants did that immediately after the training and was able to sell his cocoa for one-third more per kilo than previously. Farmers were also trained on how to connect with buyers and implement a group sales strategy.
This has led to the communities’ first major success, when after the first workshop, farmers from Ilebo took their product to Kinshasa and were able to connect with buyers through ASSECCAF, selling a total of 6.5 tons of their cocoa. They sold it for a price that was almost double the usual price, and managed to make a substantial profit despite the high transportation costs. This hugely encouraged all the participants who have been working hard to improve their livelihoods.
This project has raised hopes with its accompanying approaches based on empowerment and the transfer of skills, and is a significant step towards raising the standard of living for rural communities while preserving their forests for future generations.
Click here to see PDF of the Success Story.