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Patrick L.
Democrat VT

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  • Supporting the Coffee Farmers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

    by Senator Patrick J. Leahy

    Posted on 2015-12-03

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    LEAHY. Mr. President, like many Senators, I have followed the appalling situation facing citizens of the Eastern Congo, where armed groups have fought for years over control of minerals and territory, pillaging, raping, and killing civilians in the process.

    The innocent people who struggle to survive in the midst of this violence and destruction rely on subsistence agriculture, as well as raising crops for export; yet their own government makes it doubly difficult.

    For decades, coffee was an important agricultural export from Eastern Congo. But after years of armed conflict, official coffee exports have reportedly decreased by over 80 percent from peak levels 30 years ago. The majority of this coffee is produced by [[Page S8372]] smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, and for whom coffee is a significant source of income.

    Today a consortium, including the Eastern Congo Initiative, the Howard Buffett Foundation, and Starbucks Coffee Company, are trying to help Congolese farmers by revitalizing the industry. Needed infrastructure has been built, a supply chain is in place, and America's largest coffee company has provided a reliable buyer. This is a welcome and worthwhile effort to improve the lives of people in rural Congolese communities that should have the support of the Congolese Government.

    Despite this collective effort, Congolese coffee farmers are being crippled by oppressive taxes that make their coffee uncompetitive in the global marketplace. While Congo's official export tax rate is 0.25 percent, many export officials reportedly continue to levy taxes of 7.5 percent, which is the previous rate. In addition, there are often informal tax levies that charge another 3 to 8 percent. These excessive taxes force exporters to pay smallholder farmers less for their coffee, with the result that farmers smuggle their crop into neighboring countries. The livelihoods of these farmers and the success of the Eastern Congo Initiative-Buffett-Starbucks joint venture are put at risk by the Congolese Government's actions.

    I want to yield to Senator Graham, who has traveled to Africa and observed the challenges facing small farmers like those I have mentioned.

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