Bili Coffee Project:

2nd Update – March 2003
by Karl Ammann

Logistics-the biggest headache!
As we reported in 1st Update of September 2002, clearing the coffee fields for harvesting was something we could leave to the farmers. But getting the beans to the warehouse in Bili was our responsibility. And it has turned out to be quite a headache.

There cannot be many places in the world where logistics are more difficult than in this landlocked corner of Central Africa. Here are just a couple of the problems we have been faced with this last year:

One factor has been the continued closure of the road between Bangassou and Bangui. This is the road along which we had planned to take the coffee in our all-wheel drive trucks, but several stretches of this road and some of the townships are now held by rebels, some roads are believed to be mined! The alternative, transporting it eastwards via Mombasa, means travelling about the same distance, but the problem there is that several ferries and bridges are destroyed. We will therefore have to use the Bili-based lorries to get the coffee as far as Api and the Uere River and contract other transporters to pick it up on the other side of the river. However this also means repairing the bridges between Api and Ango for which The Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation is providing help. The construction work is being carried out under supervision of the local chiefs.

Fuel supplies is another limiting factor. The only way to get fuel to Bili is on bicycle caravans from Uganda which takes a cyclist some three to four weeks for a one-way trip through the rainforest, transporting some 80 liters of fuel per bicycle, per trip!

Additional problems
Local administration officials suddenly demanded that a tax be paid on top of the price TWWF has guaranteed for the coffee. And this in spite of the fact that TWWF is already paying four times the current world market price. This necessitated a further meeting with the MLC administration which fortunately resulted in an official letter confirming our exemption from local taxes, landing fees, entry permits etc.

Mr. Gunnar Eines, an ex Baptist missionary from Norway, who was hired by TWWF to supervise the purchasing, has been confronted with further problems. For example: -some farmers have been trying to get Gunnar to buy old coffee, produced prior to the coming in force of the agreement, for the new, higher, price. -coffee has even been ‘imported’ for sale to TWWF. Guards have therefore had to be posted on the roads crossing the boundaries to different neighbouring regions, since it was clear that coffee was arriving from areas which were not under the jurisdiction of the two chiefs and therefore not covered by the agreement. All village chiefs now have to sign an agreement confirming that they have understood the conditions (no hunting of protected species, no use of cable snares, no use of army weaponry, no commercial transport of bushmeat etc).
Furthermore posters have been printed and hung up in the villages to ensure that the villagers also ‘know the rules’. Solving such problems requires sessions of intense negotiations, much tact and a firm resolve.

That the project is now up and running is largely due to the fact that TWWF reacts strongly to any attempts at coercion, making it clear, that despite the sizeable investment already committed, we would ‘call it a day’ should demands be made such as a "You have to pay more to be allowed to help".

What have we achieved so far?
During the first week of purchasing (which began on March 25th.) TWWF bought 10 tons of coffee, thus putting some $ 5.000 in small dollar bills into the local economy, and the hands of the villagers.

We expect that all the coffee in the area will be in by mid April. We estimate that the total harvest of the 2003 season will amount to some 100 tons of coffee, putting some $ 50.000 into the local economy.

Depending on how quickly the transport problems can be solved, this coffee will either be shipped to Rotterdam later this year or held in storage until 2004, by which time the political and infrastructure situation is expected to have improved.

The Future
Apart from supervising the purchasing Gunnar has as one of his main objectives the writing of a manual of policies and procedures to guide the farmers and all who deal with them in future years. Hopefully it will also serve as an example to other regions, perhaps even for other crops.

Since the programme is all about helping the elephant and primate population, enforcement measures are of the utmost importance. Gunnar has instructions to stop buying in any area where for example an orphaned chimp is found or where there is any transport of bushmeat taking place.

Further activities to audit and discourage bushmeat trading include: paying for intelligence information, having an operative in the CAR who monitors the markets for meat arriving from the DRC, carrying out early morning flights (to spot camp fires and fires used to smoke meat), and trusting and cooperating with the two chiefs who pass on information they get from their villagers.

There is no doubt that the “Coffee for Elephants” project has considerable potential in this region of the DRC, an area where the human population is on the decline and the wildlife population - except for the elephants - is still largely intact. In the overall context of what is happening in Africa we must recognize that it is a mere ‘drop in the ocean’. But it is encouraging to note that during a recent Kinshasa meeting with World Bank officials we were told that the Bili/Uere area of DRC has been identified for funding which would set up, or reactivate, the former ‘protected area system’.

The best we can do is to expand our TWWF program and hope that we will have saved many elephants by the time the World Bank and its money arrives in the Bili area.