CHALLENGING CONDITIONS, DELICIOUS COFFEES
On the surface, Burundi is an unlikely candidate for a specialty coffee origin, given its enormous economic and political challenges. Two factors work in its favor: ideal climatic and agro-ecological conditions, and a few visionary pioneers. Our partners in Burundi are leading the movement to become a major supplier of specialty coffee.
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history and market
Coffee arrived in Burundi via Belgian colonizers in the 1930s and has been the country’s primary export ever since. Burundian coffee has traditionally fetched low prices, in large part due to the country’s continuous cycles of political unrest and civil war.
Until the 2010s, the management of the coffee sector ping-ponged between full government control and some privatization, coinciding with the cycles of political turmoil. During the 1980s due to large-scale funding by the World Bank, the country dramatically increased its capacity to produce quality coffee, with the construction of approximately 150 washing stations. This potential for producing quality coffee was not realized until 2007, when USAID carried out a five-year project aimed at introducing Burundian coffee stakeholders to new coffee markets, along with sending agronomy consultants around the country to educate farmers on modern best practices.
In Burundi, coffee farmers grow and harvest cherries which they then sell to private washing stations, SOGESTALS (government-managed washing stations), or local buyers who in turn sell to either private or government-run washing stations. Cherry prices fluctuate throughout the harvest season and the minimum rate is determined by Intercafé, the country’s coffee board. Every washing station is obliged to publish this rate. Since the average coffee plantation is between 150-300 trees, no single producer produces enough for farm-level purchasing.
CCS partners with private washing stations. We were introduced to early partners through the Cup of Excellence (CoE), which entered the country in 2012 via the trial Prestige Cup. (In any country CoE enters, the first year is always a trial-run.) CoE has had a huge positive impact on the specialty coffee market in Burundi, introducing stakeholders to some of the most influential specialty coffee buyers.
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OUR PARTNERS AT ORIGIN
Long Miles Coffee
The Long Miles Coffee Project (LMCP) was started by Ben & Christy Carlson whose goal was to facilitate relationships coffee producers and roasters. This ambition began to be realized through the founding of their first washing station, Bukeye, located in the northern Kayanza province, in 2013. CCS has been buying Long Miles coffee since Bukeye’s inaugural year.
What keeps LMCP flourishing, in a country filled with turmoil and almost daily new challenges, is the team’s unwavering dedication to its partnering farmers. At the forefront of this team’s vision is always the dual-ambition of finding ways to increase their farmer partners’ production capacity (in turn elevating living standards), along with increasing coffee quality through investing in new processing technology and experimenting/tweaking their coffee processing techniques.
Founded in 2015, Greenco began with a huge capacity to influence Burundi’s specialty coffee sector, as it oversees 15 washing stations and works with over 41 000 coffee farming families across the northern Ngozi and Kayanza provinces.
CCS’ history with some of Greenco’s 15 washing stations pre-dates Greenco’s management of them. In 2012, when CCS started working in Burundi, Webcor was the owner of these washing stations and became one of our initial partners. We learned about their work from the 2012 Prestige Cup (trial-run to Cup of Excellence). Robert (CCS’ co-founder) was on the jury and was impressed by the diversity, uniqueness and quality of the lots he evaluated. In particular, the washing stations Masha, Nemba, Rubagabaga and Yandaro shone in the competition.
From the beginning, CCS has been committed to establishing relationships as close to the farmer as was possible. In Burundi, this means working at the washing station level. Management changes, political realities and the transfer of ownership from Webcor to Greenco proved too challenging for us to continue buying from the four original washing stations, but we have confidence in the new connections with Greenco’s family of washing stations through the leadership of Greenco’s current team, headed by Maxime Acien.
Burundi BLOG POSTS
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HIGH RESOLUTION PHOTOGRAPHS FOR DOWNLOAD
Right click on a photo to download. Please credit Long Miles Coffee Project.