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Inclusive Design for Economic Empowerment at New DRC Coffee Facility

CPNCK Lab Phase4 Windows-Doors-a

Afternoon sunlight on the brick walls outside the offices of the forthcoming CPNCK Coffee cooperative facility. University of Buffalo press photo.

Local crews are putting the finishing touches on a new coffee facility in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that might help inform future inclusive coffee facility designs.

Located on the Idjwi Island in Lake Kivu — an area regarded for its abundant potential to produce high-quality arabica coffee — the coffee facility will serve as an administrative headquarters for the CPNCK coffee cooperative, while providing cupping, training and other quality-control areas.

The project represents a major milestone for the growing coffee cooperative, which was able to ship its first full container of green coffee to Starbucks in 2018, and a major victory for Congo’s re-emerging, high-ceilinged coffee sector as a whole in terms of value chain development.

Yet the facility also represents a breakthrough in inclusive facility design, particularly for the island’s landmine survivors and others who have suffered from the vestiges of decades of civil conflict.

The facility project, which was outlined at the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston, is being led by the Massachusetts nonprofit Polus Center, with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

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An architectural team from the University of Buffalo led the inclusive design — incorporating cupping tables of multiple heights, ramps for coffee transportation and wheelchairs, and other features designed to accommodate people missing limbs or those who are hard of seeing — while adhering to traditional local construction materials and local practices.

“We’re enthusiastic for what this collaboration will do for the region,” Korydon Smith, UB architecture department chair and co-founder of the UB Community for Global Health Equity, said in an announcement of the nearly finished project. “The training center will bolster coffee quality in the region while providing conflict survivors, women and people with disabilities access to coffee-sector employment.”

The UB team has been working with the Coffee Quality Institute to help forge new architectural-design standards for coffee facilities to better include people with disabilities. The group is also creating a series of prototypes that might be able to be replicated in other post-conflict zones such as parts of Colombia, Nicaragua or Colombia.

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