Cocoa-growers in Ituri are positioned on the fine flavour cocoa market

Cocoa-growers in Ituri are positioned on the fine flavour cocoa market

Combining high-quality cocoa production with biodiversity conservation in DR Congo
Rikolto is going to work alongside at least 700 cocoa producers, gathered in the Okapi cocoa cooperative, to meet the challenges along the road to better quality.
Ndegho Mukomerwa
Coordinator of our coffee and cocoa programme in Ituri
Ndegho Mukomerwa
This project is part of the following focus area:

Mambasa is one of the largest regions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is heavy rainfall and the roads, which are not well maintained and a real headache for moving produce out of the fields. This region is covered by equatorial forest which the farmers blithely cut down to sow new fields, of cocoa in particular. But the Mambasa region is not very well known for its cocoa. It is more known for its armed groups, which kill an animal that is indigenous and protected in the region: the okapi, the flagship species of the okapi wildlife reserve.

Our model of supporting real cooperatives in the coffee sector, which scrupulously observe all the cooperative principles, is beginning to be copied by other organisations in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which only confirms the relevance of our approach. And more than that, other sectors are interested in it, and this is how a cocoa organisation in the Mambasa region in Ituri invited us to develop a cocoa fermentation and drying centre approach with them, inspired by coffee micro-washing stations reconfigured for cocoa.

Within this framework, in 2017, Rikolto led a study in the Mambasa region. This study showed that the cocoa production potential in this region of Ituri province is enormous. Cocoa growing in the main source of income for farming families in the region. However, the cocoa sector in the Mambasa region does not earn much for cocoa farmers. One could say that the sector is not organised. Stakeholders in the region only focus on increasing cocoa production volumes, making almost no effort to improve quality.

However, in the arabica coffee sector, for example, our experience has shown that peasants get a better income if attention is focused above all on quality, with quantity coming second. The sector is facing many challenges, and cocoa is sold at derisory prices due to a lack of quality and structure. “The farmer is the link that drives the sector. This is the link that makes the raw material available. This link needs considerable support to produce quality cocoa in quantity,”, acknowledges the Mambasa region administrator.

Rikolto is going to work alongside at least 700 cocoa producers, gathered in the Okapi cocoa cooperative, to meet the challenges along the road to better quality. With the World Conservation Society, which is working to conserve the okapi, we intend to combine high-quality cocoa production with biodiversity conservation. The road to professionalisation for cocoa farmers is long, and we are open to any form of partnership with stakeholders interested in the well-being of cocoa farmers.


No centralised processing, no homogeneous cocoa.

«Farmers did the processing themselves, individually. This meant that we did not achieve homogeneous cocoa. Because each person processed it in their own way, according to their timetable, the quality was not good.»

Charles Kambale Kivalotwa Managing director of the Cocoa Okapi cooperative
  • Low quality cocoa, low prices. The quality of the cocoa is low, both before and after harvest. The market is only organised for volume. As a result, cocoa growers find it hard to live off the meagre resources derived from the sector. “There is a market problem. Producers spend to produce buy when they compare the prices paid to what they have spent, they often end up with a deficit. They need a market that will reward them decently for their efforts. Because the current situation discourages certain cocoa farmers, they may give up growing the crop. I have seen farmers convert to subsistence crops,” continues Charles.
  • Low prices, young people losing interest and unsustainable sector in the long term. “Currently, planters are people of the third age. Young people are not interested in farming because there is no support. If young people are not involved in farming, the sector is not sustainable. This is a crisis in the making because the older people will die, and the sector with them. Unless young people take up the baton,” continues Charles Kivalotwa.
  • Practices that do not meet environmental standards. Cocoa growing in Mambasa region is pushing farmers to cut down the forest to sow new fields. As a result, biodiversity is threatened, in particular in the okapi wildlife reserve, which is globally renowned.
  • Lack of access to loans. Cocoa growers have no access to loans due to a lack of guarantees and are therefore excluded from the Congolese financial circuit.
  • Lack of contracts to export cocoa. Congolese coco growers do not export their cocoa. They sell their harvest to intermediaries who offer them low prices.

Our strategies

  • Structuring cocoa growers in a cooperative. Through their cooperative, cocoa growers will form business relationships with fine cocoa buyers worldwide.
  • We have led tests to improve quality, following the protocol put in place by the partner company ZOTO. The results were immediate. Kilimamwenza and Mayuwano obtained excellent scores. “In the past two years, we have achieved an 88% cocoa quality score from experiments, giving it the title of speciality cocoa. This is pushing us to go further to implement superior quality cocoa processing infrastructure. It’s really a new approach,” says the managing director of the Cocoa Okapi cooperative.
  • We are introducing good agricultural practices that aim to reduce the negative effects on the environment (soil, water, pesticides, etc.). The training aims to increase the yield in the field and reduce the pressure on the forest. By reconciling cocoa growing with biodiversity conservation, the sector has been remodelled. “Thanks to training, producers can give us good cocoa. Because processing starts in the field. The producer must be able to regularly prune the cocoa trees, control the different diseases and sort the good pods to increase the yield, volume and quality. It is very important that producers maintain their fields well to have the right cocoa calibre’, says Charles Kivalotwa enthusiastically.
  • Joint construction of fermentation and drying centres. Rikolto is going to invest jointly with the farmers to set up 22 cocoa fermentation and drying centres. Standardised and centralised cocoa processing will result in a homogeneous product. Above all, it’s the best way to produce speciality cocoa to obtain prices that remunerate quality. The managing director of the Cocoa Okapi cooperative has a message: “Rikolto is raising funds for the joint construction of cocoa fermentation and drying centres. (the producers’ shares make up half the cost of a centre’s construction). Several partners must be able to support this initiative. Today, we have a plan to build 22 fermentation and drying centres in the region. But the means available up to now will only enable us to build 4 centres. Given the production potential in the region, we need much more. It’s a major challenge. I call on private and public partners that are interested in the sector to support the initiative. Because, by taking ownership of this crop, if there is support from partners, we will start to improve the socio-economic conditions of a great many small farmers.”
  • We connect cocoa growers with international buyers of speciality cocoa.
  • Connecting cocoa growers with financial institutions for access to loans. Collecting cocoa pods and processing them to make superior quality cocoa requires considerable financial resources that the cocoa growers’ shares alone cannot cover.

Results up to now

  • Implementation and legal registration of a cooperative. On 1st October 2019, on international cocoa and coffee day, a cooperative was started in the Mambasa region: the Cocoa Okapi cooperative. The cooperative is legally registered.

  • Attendance at international chocolate trade fairs and introduction to cocoa buyers. In October 2019, the Cocoa Okapi cooperative attended the Paris Chocolate Fair, in France, which exhibits superior quality cocoa. “A big thank you to Rikolto and its backers Alimento and Vivace, for having facilitated and financed the trip. We would also like to thank ZOTO. Without them, the small cocoa producers in Mambasa would not be known on an international scale. Today, it’s a matter of pride for Congo. Our cocoa has drawn the attention of a lot of chocolate-makers. Both small and large chocolate-makers have been interested in our cocoa. We have talked to around twenty of them, with the prospect of business relationships,” says Charles, enthusiastically.

Ndegho Mukomerwa
Ndegho Mukomerwa
Coffee and cocoa programme coordinator in Ituri