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Growing Coffee, Seeking Peace in Eastern DRC

A coffee-growing cooperative in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is giving former rebels and soldiers a fresh start. They are being encouraged to make a better and safer living from coffee.

The cooperative, or co-op, is called SOPACDI. Its headquarters are in Minova, a town along Lake Kivu. Many people trying to escape conflict have moved there. The co-op began in 2003. The co-op's president, Joachim Munganga, says getting a "fair trade" certificate for the group's coffee took two years. The group had to meet standards for respect for the environment and workers' contracts. This year, the co-op won an organic certificate.

It now has seven buyers in Europe, the United States and Japan.The purpose of the co-op is not simply to produce coffee. The founders of SOPACDI were trying to find ways to help resolve ethnic conflicts in the area. So they brought coffee producers together and persuaded them to form a co-op.

Members of rival ethnic communities now work together at the co-op's different offices. They all work for themselves. But they also work together to elect leaders and promote common interests.

With the co-op, there are trucks that take the coffee to SOPACDI's own washing station. There a machine depulps, or removes the outer flesh from, the coffee berries that contain the beans. Doing this process by hand takes a long time and can mean a loss of freshness.

About 160 people work at the washing station. Many were fighters in the past. One former rebel says he is very happy with his new job. He now spends his nights in a house, instead of sleeping in the forest.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Mario Ritter. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 13Nov2012)