Bili Coffee Project:
1st Update – September 2002
CNN special program on our Congo project!
by Karl Ammann
In August 2002 CNN featured a special program on our Congo "Coffee for Elephants" project. The result was a stream of requests for more information and some interest from potential buyers of our Mbala!, elephant brand, coffee. See below for further news on the growing of Mbala! elephant-friendly coffee in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Coffee plantation in a hunting zone?
Imagine our concern when we discovered during a visit to the offices of ICCN ( Institute Congolaise pour la Conservation de la Nature ) in Kinshasa in August that our Mbala!, elephant brand, coffee plantations are situated in the middle of an area designated for hunting! We were much relieved when a closer look at the laws governing hunting in this area of the DRC revealed that the existing rules governing any hunting there, were a great deal stricter than anything we had ourselves envisaged in agreements with the local chiefs. However we felt it was crucial to find a new formula that would safeguard our plantation areas from future hunting. Our lawyers worked on an amendment of the agreement which was discussed with Mr. Olivier Kamitatu, the secretary general of the Movement de Liberation du Congo (MLC). A final version of this agreement was signed by Mr. Kamitatu in August and the MLC accepted responsibility for having the agreement ratified by the Government in Kinshasa in the future. In mid September Karl Ammann (our project-partner) took copies to Bili to be signed by the chiefs and local administration and we now feel pretty confident that this area of 200 by 100 KM (20,000 KM2) is, at least on paper, as good as 'hunting free'.
Poachers from CAR arrested!
Whatever the laws, however, it seems that there will always, sadly, be law-breakers. Whilst Karl Ammann was in Bili he heard of a new incident of commercial elephant poaching by hunters and porters from neighboring Central African Republic (CAR). The DRC authorities assume that some of the poachers concerned were among a group that was arrested a few months ago. This group was able to 'escape' by bribing the army guards to free them in exchange for ivory they had hidden in a river bed.
The new contingent of MLC soldiers that has since been stationed in the area, however, have been provided with funds with which to buy their food and this is expected to improve relations with the local villagers. The soldiers also seem very eager to stamp out poaching and this latest incident ended with the arrest of four poachers and the confiscation of a quantity of arms and a large hoard of elephant meat.
The first crop of Mbala!, elephant brand, coffee on its way!
Many of the villagers in the Bili area are now busy cleaning their plantations of undergrowth in preparation for the picking and transportation operations planned for the Spring of 2003. TWWF is currently renting the only two trucks in Bili which will collect the raw coffee from the plantations and then try to transport the ‘hulled’ coffee North-Westwards to Bangassou for onward shipment via Bangui to Douala and finally to Europe. Where possible we are using people with local knowledge and connections to help us. For example we have approached some of the missionaries we have been working with to help us identify people who would be capable of supervising the first buying operation and writing an operating manual for use in the future.