Meet Noella Rwizibuka
If you’ve experienced the smooth, aromatic coffee of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — such as the Kahawa ya Congo coffee from Nespresso — you can thank farmers like Noella Rwizibuka.
Noella Rwizibuka is working with TechnoServe to improve the quality of her coffee and earn higher prices from buyers like Nespresso, which enables her to improve her family’s quality of life.
The rain-rich volcanic soil of the DRC provides an ideal environment for growing coffee. In fact, in 1980, coffee was the country’s second-most important export.
However, by the early 2000s, coffee exports had decreased significantly due to internal conflict and economic instability. Families across the region lost homes, income, and loved ones as the turmoil upended their hopes for the future.
This instability largely eroded the economy, diminished the productive and adaptive capacity of households, and discouraged private investment in economic activities.
Farmers like Noella are working to change the trajectories of their families’ lives. See photos from Noella’s day as she works to ensure a better life for her family through coffee production.
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By 6 a.m Noella is already tending the crops on her farm – which include bananas, yams, and beans in addition to coffee.
The work for the day consists of planting, sowing, and weeding. TechnoServe Farmer Trainer Divine Nabintu Kashosi pays a visit to help Noella apply improved agronomic practices.
TechnoServe is providing training to more than 15,000 coffee farming households over the course of five years, and delivering technical assistance to cooperatives and other market actors to bolster the specialty coffee value chain in the DRC.
Through the Strengthening Value Chain (SVC) program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, TechnoServe aims to increase farmer yields by 30%, while supporting local processing businesses to improve their export activity and offer farmers higher, more stable prices.
At 8 a.m., Noella and her husband, Albert Koko Ndahaliza, pick coffee cherries – red, unprocessed coffee growing on trees – applying practices learned from their farmer training to use a clean container for the cherries when harvesting and to only choose ripe red cherries.
Noella knows she should harvest early in the morning so that she can sort the cherries before bringing them to the mill around 10 a.m.
As she works, Noella remembers to place a large tarp or bag under the tree, to catch ripe cherries that may fall to the ground during harvesting.
The goal is to minimize waste and ensure no cherries are left on the ground where they can spread pests and diseases. This helps Noella improve her coffee sales while ensuring the work is environmentally sustainable.
TechnoServe’s training encompasses many climate-smart techniques designed to help farmers improve productivity and coffee quality.
Albert helps separate ripe, red cherries from unripe cherries or cherries with defects, ensuring Noella is delivering the best crop to their local mill.
In eastern DRC, where Noella and Albert live, specialty coffee production has recently taken off despite years of political turmoil thanks to domestic and international investment along with a renewed interest in specialty coffees unique to the DRC.
TechnoServe is supporting coffee farmer cooperatives, formed by smallholder farmers to collectively improve their coffee processing and sell their coffee at higher prices.
Once the coffee sack is packed with ripe cherries, Noella slings it over her shoulder and heads out to the coffee mill, to sell her crop to local processors.
Noella is paid directly at the station – by weight and quality – and she’s pleased with the price offered. Her work to apply better coffee farming techniques has literally paid off.
Noella wears a mask on her walk to the mill – a reminder of the challenges that smallholder farmers still face as a result of COVID-19 ravaging through the region.
Once a month, Noella (second from left) participates in a Coffee Farm College training on climate-smart agronomic practices as a part of the Nyambibwa One Group.
In this session, she learns about integrated pest management, simple practices like removing diseased cherries from her coffee trees that reduce the chance of insect damage and avoids the need for chemicals. She also receives additional training in climate-smart agronomic practices, many of which Noella has already implemented on her farm.
In addition, a major challenge for the DRC in the coming years will be ensuring food security despite changing weather patterns and already substantial environmental damage – both of which also affect coffee production.
Normally, though, Noella spends the afternoon at home with Albert, who are joined by their two older children after they arrive home from school. She uses the time to start preparing meals for the evening.
Noella’s children are 10 years old, six years old, and eight months old. Her dream is for them to grow up to be “intellectuals” in the community – either teachers or community trainers – especially since Albert is a teacher.
While Albert’s salary used to be their sole income, coffee farming has helped the family purchase two goats.
They will use the manure to improve the crops on their farm, and plan to sell the offspring when they need extra income.
At the end of the day, Noella prepares the children for bed and gets ready to start her work again in the morning. She knows that her efforts are bringing greater returns than ever before.
This improved income is crucial for Noella’s family – just one of the households whose security and well-being has suffered from years of internal conflict in the DRC.
The improved coffee from Noella’s farm is being enjoyed by consumers all over the world – and bringing better nutrition, health care, and education for her family.
Before long, it’s time for Noella to start a new day.
Around the world, climate change is making it more difficult for smallholder farmers to grow coffee. Take our quiz to find out what kind of coffee fits you best, then learn how TechnoServe is helping preserve this coffee through improving farmers’ resilience to climate threats.