Hard Work Pays Off

By: Craig Holt

The Muungano cooperative is located over three hours south of Goma, on a questionable dirt road on the Western shore of Lake Kivu. The closest town is Minova, which is a ramshackle and bustling hamlet, trafficking largely in manioc, fish, and “road taxes.” And though I did not feel that my tax dollars were being put to very good use as we banged over rocks and wallowed through muddy troughs, the visit to Muungano was totally worth the drive.

Founded in 2009, Muungano coop is comprised of around 4,400 smallholder farmers, nearly half of them women.  Gender justice is a principal focus of the members, as is integrating farmers from different ethnic groups into the operation.  The word “Muungano” actually means “Togetherness” in the Swahili language.  When we first visited the group, they were milling coffee on equipment from the early twentieth century, but still managed to produce the best Congo coffee we had ever tasted. Since then, they have installed two new washing stations, a new cupping lab and have a trained roaster and cupper on staff.  The fruits of their hard work are evident in the sweet, bright, and complex coffees they produce every year.

Despite the many challenges faced by coffee producers in the DRC, the co-op members are remarkably focused, professional, and upbeat. Our friends at Twin, who first partnered with the cooperative and did a lot of training with the producers, have done a phenomenal job of helping growers get the most out of the ancient Bourbon coffee trees growing in the region.

Muungano cooperative members are remarkable for their eagerness to learn what they could do to deepen our commercial relationship improve the quality of their production.  A visit to Muungano is a great reminder of how hard our growers work to produce their coffee – often with incredibly limited infrastructure, and in very difficult circumstances. Atlas is extremely proud to be one of the very first importers in North America to offer this exceptional coffee.  In 2017, Muungano also obtained their Organic certification, opening new doors to sustainable specialty coffee markets. In 2018 they started producing natural-processed coffee in small volumes and were some of the nicest natural-processed coffees we’ve ever cupped!

In the desire to expand our Muungano offerings to clients, as of 2023 Atlas will be importing a small volume of the farmer-washed Kivu 4 grade from Muungano in addition to the fully-washed higher grade Kivu 3. Muungano processes its coffees so thoroughly at the farm level that their Kivu 4 (which is typically seen as lower in quality) consistently scores in the 83-85 point range and useful in a variety of applications.

Please see here a detailed image of Muungano’s processing from cherry to export.

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