Late last year we launched our Limited Edition Organic Virunga Reserve, working with the Virunga National Park who committed to supporting the local communities that surround the area. The organisation protects both the wildlife in its tropical forest and the 4 million people (including over 7,000 coffee farmer-families) that live within a days walk of its borders.
"There has been permanent stress in the minds of all employees and partners, the coffee growers and their production..."
In the last few months Virunga has been rocked by a violent attack; this January, 6 rangers were killed in by armed rebels whilst out on patrol. This, unfortunately, is not an uncommon headline; and I reached out to speak with Adelard Palata - known in the area as “Mr Coffee” - to help understand more about the precarious situation in Virunga National Park, and see what is being done to help the people that rely on it for their livelihoods.
Adelard with two of the Virunga Rangers
Tell us a bit about yourself...
"I work at the level of the Department of Agriculture as a supervisor in the coffee program - I'm responsible for the implementation of project activities with our coffee growing partners that border the park."
"Over the past 6 months we have encountered so many difficulties. The main insecurity is in the territory of Beni, caused by the presence of armed groups."
"This situation [has] negatively affected 100% of the activities and programmes we had planned. We needed to have emergency meetings within the organization to discuss, but we could not do this due to Covid-19."
"It was like bad thing after bad thing."
"The management of the Covid -19 pandemic when also we have major difficult security conditions has been an extremely hard challenge."
How has the park dealt with the recent violence?
"The killings of our eco-guards have seriously affected our work, emotionally and physically."
"There has been permanent stress in the minds of all employees and partners, the coffee growers and even the coffee growers' production [has been affected]."
"Unexpected budgets to strengthen security in our camps [and] the reduction of our guards all has had a knock on effect - we have to prioritise budget for security now, meaning there is no money for building..."
Do you really see coffee as way forward here?
"Coffee is life. Without coffee there is no life."
"Coffee has never been more important to the area. Developing the coffee sector produced by the coffee growers of the Virunga National Park is really one of the only ways for us to improve the socio-economic conditions."
"It will help improve the safety in the area by reducing the involvement of youth in armed groups by creating jobs, protecting ecosystems, and reducing pressure from residents on the park."
If you could say anything to our customers?
"Taste our coffee, we know when you taste it you will love it!"
"Support anyone who buys our coffee. We expect and hope the UK will increase the consumption of coffee produced by our partners (COOPADE and Kawa Kanzururu) with the right prices to help motivate producers to produce more and improve quality."