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South Sudan Is Exporting Coffee for the First Time

Nespresso and non-profit organisation TechnoServe are working revive the East African country’s coffee industry after nearly two years of brutal civil war. The first South Sudanese coffee will be exported for sale in France this month.

by Phoebe Hurst
Oct 9 2015, 12:00pm

Photo via Flickr user olle svensson

As South Sudan's most recent peace deal between rebels and government officials is compromised by what the UN describes as significant militant action, the East African country's brutal civil war now spans over 20 months, having already claimed thousands of lives and displaced 20 percent of its population.

With the structural instability and food shortages that follow such sustained conflict, South Sudan's economy is expected to shrink by 7.5 percent this year.

But before the outbreak of war, sparked almost two years ago by former Vice President Riek Machar's rebel movement against President Salva Kiir, the four-year-old country had its own coffee farming industry.

READ MORE: Chasing Coffee in Ethiopia

As the Guardian reports, a project between Nespresso and non-profit farming organisation TechnoServe is attempting to revive this. Since 2011, the partnership has worked to set up coffee mills, replant trees, and train farmers in South Sudan's Yei region, which is not affected by fighting.

This week, it was announced that South Sudan would start exporting coffee for the first time.

Speaking to Agence France-Press, TechnoServe chief executive William Warshauer said: "We wanted to help smallholder farmers have a business opportunity around the existing coffee, to switch the thinking from, 'I've got a couple of coffee trees in my yard,' to, 'I can really work on this and make a living'."

Security threats meant that TechnoServe's foreign workers were forced to pull out of South Sudan last year but the organisation hopes that 2015 will bring a better harvest.

The South Sudanese coffee will be sold in limited edition capsules called "Suluja ti South Sudan" or "Beginning of South Sudan" in the local Kakwa language. While the capsules will only be available in France, Warshauer hopes that South Sudan's coffee exports will one day be second only to its oil output, as well as standing up to neighbouring coffee exporter Ethiopia.

On VICE: Saving South Sudan

Ethiopia is known for its Arabica beans but Nespresso sees South Sudan as "the cradle of coffee," thanks to the abundance of wild-growing coffee, including Robusta beans in the country's Imatong mountains.

George Clooney, who launched the project between Nespresso and TechnoServe, is also confident in the coffee's taste. He told Bloomberg: "Coffee farms have a great history of building peaceful pockets in very volatile areas. We drank our first cup this summer and it tasted just a little bit better knowing that it was from people who have worked so hard for normalcy and peace."

It'll take more than coffee to bring an end to conflict in South Sudan but anything that offers some sort of economic stability for the country's farmers—and maybe even normalcy—has to be a good thing.

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