Bili Coffee Project:

3rd Update – May 2003
by Gunnar Eines

My first task as a buyer of coffee has now been completed. The result? TWWF has purchased, at prices four times the average world price, more than 166 tons (166 000 kilos) of shade grown Congo coffee! I have found it very interesting and meaningful work, and it is my belief that this project is of great help in providing many poor people in the district around Bili with a means of survival without them resorting to poaching wildlife and selling it as bushmeat. Here are some of my experiences and conclusions:

Giving the farmers a fresh start.
Our main objective was to help local people by buying coffee from ordinary men and women with only a few kilos to sell. This has been accomplished. In fact we bought a good deal of coffee from people with only a couple of kilos, although some had much more without, themselves, being ‘plantation owners’. All those who had sold their coffee seemed well satisfied too, such as the child who, by selling only 2 kilos, had enough money to pay the school fee. Or the old lady who came with 2 kilos of coffee and with the dollar they were worth was able to buy salt for her food. And the man who sold $ 500,- worth of coffee, and went out looking for help in building the house he could now finally afford to build.

Plantation owners important too.
At the same time I also think it was important that we bought coffee from plantation owners. As soon as the community starts functioning better, they will play an important role. They will be able to employ people and help in the general development of the area. The plantation owners themselves were pleased with their sales so far since they will now be able to employ workers to keep the coffee fields in good shape. After several years of no demand for coffee many of the plantations were completely overgrown by trees.

In the villages where we bought coffee we reminded people that our mutual objectives are to save the African forest elephant and to help other threatened species to survive. We looked into cooking pots for evidence of bushmeat and also looked for orphan monkeys in and behind village huts. Orphans are a sure sign that the parents have been poached and sold as bushmeat.

In the villages where we bought coffee from plantation owners we asked about the level of wages of the workers. Agreements were made that from next year the workers’ basic wages will be one dollar a day during harvesting. All labourers will be instructed to make a note of how much coffee they harvest each day, and when the coffee is sold they are to receive a bonus so that their total wages equal 10 % of the value of the coffee they have harvested.

This is a good start but in the coming years we will be thinking of further ways to stimulate local village development. Only then will we be able to call a halt to the commercial poaching and widespread sale of bushmeat.

“What can we buy”?
At many places out in the far-flung districts we were asked if we had any goods with us. “What can we do with the money if there is nothing to buy?” we heard more than once. Between Bili and Adama, for instance, a distance of 150 km, there is not a single shop. We did see some enterprising retailers though, who came on bicycles carrying goods, but the prices they charged were often very high. And there are many village women who carry their products to Bili or to Baye, also some 150 km from the village of Adama, to exchange them for other things. Salt, soap, clothes and agricultural tools are the articles most in demand. We also came across some villagers who had made foundations for houses and now wanted cement and corrugated iron to complete the job.

It might be an idea next year to bring some goods with us to take into the outlying districts. The most important things would be salt, soap, a variety of clothes, farming tools, and perhaps even cement and corrugated iron. This would help to stimulate the development of the districts. Although this plan, too, will take much time and effort since everything has to be flown in to Bili by small Cessna’s. This applies to items needed for the coffee-buying operation (such as jute sacks, batteries and tyres) as well as goods for the villagers. Currently the only thing that villagers everywhere can easily get hold of is locally produced alcohol. To avoid our running the risk that our intervention leads to the destruction of the local community, it is very important that we provide more useful alternative goods.

Logistics, again!
What often delayed our buying of coffee was a lack of sacks. Only 150 sacks were available and that’s only enough for two truck loads. Furthermore, to go, for example, from Adama to Bili and back takes at least four days. So the system of transporting the coffee to Bili as it was purchased, was very time consuming. At the end of this year’s trip we bought many more sacks but we will need about 1000 by the start of next year’s season. The result of the shortage of sacks was that we had to store some of the coffee out in the villages for a short period of time. That was no major problem except that sometimes there was also a question of paying rent for the storage and salaries of people to guard the coffee. We clearly need to ensure that sacks are sent out prior to next year’s buying season, and pre-arrange places where we can store some of the coffee where we buy it, as we will not often be able to transport it immediately.

Transportation of the coffee to Bili turned out to be the most difficult part of the job. This was a result of very old trucks as well as bad roads and collapsed bridges. From the start we had planned to transport 6 tons at a time, but the bridges proved capable of bearing no more than 5 tons. This meant we had to make more trips than expected. Some coffee even had to be transported by a tractor, which only took 3 tons at a time. Transport will clearly be a relatively expensive item. The bad roads wear out the lorries quickly, so much of the transportation budget will have to be invested in spare parts for the two trucks. The roads are also a problem, but village leaders and local people will hopefully work on improving the roads and bridges across some of the rivers.