Established in 1925, the Virunga National Park is the oldest national park in Africa and one of the last refuges of the mountain gorilla, and is also home to highly endangered lowland gorillas as well as savannah elephants, chimpanzees, lions, leopards and antelopes. It has the largest diversity of birdlife in the world. Due to its situation in eastern DR Congo, the park faces many existential challenges.
The borders of the Virunga National Park, including the slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains and the uplands to the north-west of Lake Edward, contain some of the finest Arabica coffee growing land in the world. The climate is temperate with plentiful rainfall and sunshine, volcanic soils, as well as altitudes rising to over 2,000 metres. Smallholder farmers here have long grown heirloom bourbon varieties, but until very recently post-harvest processing was very basic and the only buyers were informal traders, mainly coming from neighbouring Uganda.
Virunga overall have now trained over 2,300 famers in GAP (Good agricultural practices) and obtained organic certification for these farmers in the Isale region. They have 7 full time field officers (trained agronomists) working in the region and have planted over 400,000 seedlings to be distributed amongst the smallholders in the area.
Ripe cherries are delivered to the wetmill for careful sorting and pulping, before fermentation for 18-24 hours, depending on the climatic conditions. Once the mucilage has been broken down sufficiently the parchment coffee is thoroughly washed in clean water channels and graded by bean density before being dried in the sun on raised African beds for 12 - 18 days, again depending on conditions, until the ideal moisture level has been reached. In the daytime the parchment needs to be raked and turned periodically to ensure a consistent drying process and prevent mould or over-fermentation. The coffee is also covered in the middle of the day to protect it from the hot sun, and at night to protect it from rainfall and moisture. Once the coffee has dried to the right level it is transported to Butembo for dry-milling, grading, sorting and handpicking, before being bagged in GrainPro for export.
This coffee has been certified under the EU Organic system. Requirements for this seal include no use of prohibited substances on the land for at least three years. This includes most synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers. Other certification requirements include a buffer between the coffee and any other crop not grown organically, a plan that demonstrates methods that prevent soil erosion, and other sustainable agricultural criteria.