Gilbert Makelele is on a mission like no other. A lifelong resident of Goma, DRC, Gilbert has lived in hardship and struggle his entire life. The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen war and conflict for the better part of 30 years, and to this day, Gilbert’s province surrounding Lake Kivu has been prone to militias and rebel groups plaguing growth and development. Gilbert is the type of man that won’t let anything stand in his way. He was determined to not sit around as a victim of the circumstances; he wanted to restore hope to his family and community. The one thing that his community has is an amazing climate for growing coffee. Some of the top quality coffee beans in the world have come out of the Lake Kivu region. However, conflict and war have frightened away just about every potential buyer. Coffee exports have gone down to 1/10 of what it was three decades previous. Gilbert is trying to change that.
“I try to tell [the rebels] to grow coffee, as it’s the best way for them to make money. If the young men in this area knew how much they could earn with coffee, they would not be interested in joining the militias.”
War, ongoing conflict, corruption...these are just a few of the issues you are facing in the DRC. Share with us your plan to restore hope.
My country has been ravaged with war and conflict from the rebels in my region. I do not know if I can restore the peace, but I try to bring hope to many in my community through coffee growing. North and South Kivu are famous for their coffee. My plan is to use our co-op (CPNCK) to mobilize the coffee growers and bring jobs and income back to our communities.
You also have a pretty amazing ministry where you are pleading with rebels to put away their guns to become coffee growers. Tell us about this.
Yes. I try to tell the population including the rebels to grow coffee, as it’s the best way for them to make money. If the young men in this area knew how much they could earn with coffee, they would not be interested in joining the militias. The young men would no longer have to live in the jungle, but they can come back home, start families, and earn money. The rebels do not make much money at all. There is no future in being a rebel here in DRC. I know the best solution is to come back to the communities and be a hard worker. to this day, CPNCK has around 50 ex-combatants working on coffee growing.
How has your community reacted to your co-op ideas?
The community reacted great. They are very hopeful that we will be able to one day organize and sell all of our coffee to earn much money.
I was able to set up the co-op, and have the community back my efforts. The main problem; however, is that we still do not have any means to connect with coffee buyers. Many coffee buyers still believe DRC is too risky. Belay was able to learn about CPNCK and see where we needed help. Belay organized a meeting for us along with a large coffee exporter in Kigali. With the help of Belay, we were able to broker a deal to have one container shipped to this company with the hopes of a long-term contract after that! At the current moment, Belay is helping us with our business and financial planning so we will be able to gather up our first container of coffee, deliver it safely, and have our finances set up so we can pay our farmers and be able to put some in savings.
What are your current needs in continuing your success?
As I stated earlier, Belay was able to help us broker a deal with a coffee exporter to purchase one container from CPNCK. Now, our concern is that we will not be able to provide the container because we lack funding. In order to collect the coffee from the co-op farmers, CPNCK must pay the farmers first, and then we are able to ship and collect payment from the purchaser. We lack funds to purchase the coffee from our farmers. In DRC - especially in Goma, getting a loan is impossible. We are continuing to work with Belay who is helping us find solutions to this problem.