Landlocked in northeast Africa, South Sudan is one of the world’s youngest countries. Having gained independence from Sudan in 2011, its short life has been turbulent to say the least – in June, a failed peace deal saw dozens killed and thousands displaced in the northwest of the country. Much of the fighting has its roots in oil, as South Sudan is home to the third-largest oil reserve in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2012, South Sudan went so far as to shut down oil production after attempts to resolve disputes with Sudan failed. Production resumed in July this year, but there is increasing pressure to diversify, with oil reserves likely to halve by 2020.
One industry South Sudan had a long history with was coffee farming, but the sector was wiped out as a result of decades of conflict. Now, though, a number of companies are trying to revive it, including TechnoServe, a non-profit organisation that works with smallholder farmers around the world, as well as Nespresso.
These two organisations are working together with local farmers to create coffee cooperatives for the first time in the country’s history: more than 700 farmers have been engaged, and the goal is to work with 1500 by 2019. Six cooperative wet mill businesses have been formed, with staff trained in harvesting and sustainable farming techniques. As a result of all this work, in 2013, 1.8 metric tons of green bean coffee was airfreighted out of the country to Nespresso, representing the first coffee export from South Sudan and the first significant non-oil export from the country to Europe. The result is a Nespresso capsule coffee called “Suluja ti South Sudan” (“Beginning of South Sudan”), which is only available in limited quantities in France, so far.
Nespresso has invested US$2.5 million, with a further US$3.18 million pledged by the United States Agency for International Development. The goal is to extend the programme around the country.
South Sudan is one of the only places in the world where coffee still grows in the wild, thriving in a distinct, dry climate. Wild arabica coffee and farmed robusta are found in the Imatong mountains in the south, while wild arabica also grows on the high Boma plateau near Ethiopia, where the bean is said to originate.