As a paternoster works the row of young girls with their baskets of coffee beans glides up the hill to the drying facilities after the beans have been roughly sorted along a shallow concrete canal filled with water.
Coffee doesn’t completely dominate the production in Kivu, in the eastern part of equatorial Belgian Congo any more. It got competition from the quinine bush during the Second World War. But coffee still covers 10.000 acres of the best fields in the hilly landscape.
As the quantity sank they aimed for quality instead. The Kivu beans they now grow are noted on the New York exchange along with the more well known Columbian Medellin and other first class beans from the other coffee producing countries.
The coffee in Kivu came with the white colonial powers and was brought there by the first white missionaries late in the 19th century. It is of the arabica type and doesn’t grow below 15.000 meters above sea level and it gives a strong, full taste.
The bushes are cut to a height of two and a half meter and should stand in the shadow of larger trees. They bloom in february/march and the beans are harvested four month later. But due to artificial watering systems the bush looses its sense of time and can bloom and carry fruit at the same time.
The water has done the first sorting but these girls do the final sorting. They work twice as fast as grown women with slower hands, and higher wage demands. Child labour is under government control though.
The yearly harvest is around 3.000 ton, which means about 5 kilos a bush. This gives about 14,000 hip like fruits that each holds two coffee beans. On the best farms they get about 500 kilo out of each acre.
Coffee beans in large drying wells. The hot sun does the job in a couple of days if the bean are turned expertly.
The crop is checked by the Office Des Produits Agricole (OPAC) in Costermanville where they through tests and scientific mixing sort it in nine different qualities. In 1947 the producers own organization Cafèkivu took over the sales who has secured a deal with the British Government for the sale of half the harvest for the next five years.
OPAC’s two coffee specialists M. P. Oudenne and M. R. Biron tasting the coffee. The are slurping it to catch as much of the taste as possible before spitting it out.
3.000 ton of coffee ready for export. About the amount Sweden imported from Belgian Congo in 1947.
From the Swedish magazine "SE"
No 44 – October 15th 1948