An emphasis on producing high-quality Arabica coffee is just gaining a foothold among producers here, as for many years a long established Robusta economy has been more prevalent.
The country itself is the fourth most-heavily populated on the continent & the second-largest nation in Africa. Despite the high population, resources such as roads, portable water & electricity are scarce.
The Virunga Coffee Company has now trained over 2,300 farmers in GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) and obtained organic certification for these farmers in the Isale region.
They have 7 full time field officers (trained agronomists) working in the region and have planted over 400,000 seedlings to be distributed amongst the smallholders in Isale
Hutwe village is located in the Kirumba region of Nord-Kivu (North of Lake Kivu), on the edge of Virunga National Park.
The region has excellent conditions for speciality arabica production with plentiful rainfall, high altitude and highly fertile volcanic soils.
The region is also very poverty-stricken and has had a severe lack of infrastructure which has made high quality arabica both difficult to produce and very challenging to export. Virunga Coffee Company has sought to overcome many of these problems through hands-on farmer education and investment in local infrastructure such as roads and bridges. This has allowed quality improvements every season and, in turn, higher premiums for farmers.
Ripe cherries are delivered to the wetmill for careful sorting and pulping, before fermentation for 18 - 24 hours, depending on the climatic conditions. Once the mucilage has been broken down sufficiently the parchment coffee is thoroughly washed in clean water channels and graded by bean density before being dried in the sun on raised African beds for 12 - 18 days, again depending on conditions, until the ideal moisture level has been reached. In the daytime the parchment needs to be raked and turned periodically to ensure a consistent drying process and prevent mould or overfermentation. The coffee is also covered in the middle of the day to protect it from the hot sun, and at night time to protect it from rainfall and moisture. Once the coffee has dried to the right level it is transported to Butembo for dry-milling, grading, sorting and handpicking (triage), before being bagged in GrainPro for export.