burundi

Developing potential: Burundi

The following is an excerpt from our report Collaborative Coffee Source, Living Our Values 2017

Felicity - a cherry producer delivering to Long Miles' Bukeye washing station

Felicity - a cherry producer delivering to Long Miles' Bukeye washing station

Burundi is a difficult place to work. It is one of the ten poorest countries in the world with serious corruption and a lack of infrastructure that make sourcing, purchasing, storing and shipping coffee extremely challenging. So why are we there?

The short answer: CCS is driven to discover new gems, be they origins or individual coffees. The best Burundian coffees exhibit intense sweetness and elegance, with balance and a honey-like mouthfeel.

Beyond the coffee, however, we love developing potential and Burundi has it in spades: high altitudes, suitable cultivars, good soils and good rainfall. While exploring this origin, we met professionals from two pioneering coffee companies who also recognized Burundi’s great potential. Our relationships with Ben Carlson of Long Miles Coffee Project, and Luis Garcia and Maxime Acien of Greenco are what make our work in Burundi possible.

The entire Carlson family moved to Bujumbura, Burundi to start the Long Miles Coffee Project, and built two beautiful washing stations that process cherries from over 3000 neighboring families. They are uncompromisingly selective about the cherries they accept, and have implemented innovative agricultural programs. Their “Coffee Scout Teams” for example, travel from village to village to teach farmers best agricultural practices and disease management, like avoiding the potato defect by hand picking antestia bugs from the coffee trees. 

Luis Garcia moved to Burundi after many years working in finance and coffee trading in Switzerland to take a job managing thirteen washing stations for Greenco. He immediately began methodically revising the entire Greenco organization to focus on quality. Luis has since moved on to another challenging role, as the manager of Sucafina's dry mill. Since the 2016 harvest, Maxime, who also comes from the trading floor, has energetically taken on the role as Greenco's Managing Director. From speculating coffee futures on your computer to overseeing the operations of washing stations that serve thousands of farming families, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Burundi’s poverty and sometimes harsh and difficult export environment has been challenging since the beginning of our work there in 2012. It’s important to acknowledge these realities. We keep coming back year-after-year because it’s a stunningly beautiful country with beautiful coffee, and because we believe in our friends, partners and farmers, and the potential they are working so hard to realize.

Download the full report The following is an excerpt from our report Collaborative Coffee Source, Living Our Values 2017

CCS Presents: Cup, Learn & Share

CCS WINTER POSTER OSLO feb 16 insta.jpg
CCS WINTER POSTER OSLO feb 16 insta.jpg

Join us in Oslo for a fascinating 1-day workshop and discover two innovative CCS partners and their unique approach to producing specialty coffee:

La Palma y El Tucan (LPET), Colombia

Long Miles Coffee Project (LMCP), Burundi

We will be cupping, discussing, sharing and learning with guest speakers Lise Rømo of sister company Kaffa, and Rory Rosenberg of Oslo Cold Brew, two baristas who have competed with these coffees, and visited their farms and washing stations, plus a Skype Q&A with Sebastian Villamizar of La Palma y El Tucan.


Agenda:

10am  Cupping coffees from Long Miles Coffee Project

12pm Presentation by Rory Rosenberg of Oslo Cold Brew Rory was the 2017 Norwegian Barista Champion. He competed with LMCP and visited their washing stations in Burundi.

12.30pm Light lunch provided

1pm Cupping La Palma y El Tucan - Neighbors and Crops

2pm Cupping La Palma y El Tucan - Heroes Series

3pm Presentation by Lise Rømo of KAFFA.no Lise was the 2016 Norwegian Barista Champion. She competed with coffee from La Palma y El Tucan, and visited their innovative farm in Cundinamarca, Colombia.

3.30pm Skype Q&A with Sebastian Villamizar of La Palma y El Tucan

4pm Beers and refreshments

Spaces are limited. Contact nicolas@collaborativecoffeesource.com to reserve yours!

Washing Station Profile: Yandaro

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Name: Yandaro
Operator: Greenco
Province: Kayanza
Commune: Kabarore
Construction Date: 1986
Processing capacity (mt): >1200
Elevation (masl): 1 774
Variety: Red Bourbon
Soil: Hygro-Xéro-Ferralsols with Ferralic
Number of delivering cherry producers: 441
Average trees per farmer: 519
Processing method: Fully washed
 

About Yandaro

The Yandaro coffee washing station (CWS) was built in the mid 1980s during a major round of investment made by the World Bank and other partners into Burundi’s coffee. This period saw the construction of +130 state-of-the-art coffee washing facilities all throughout the country. As a result of these investments, Burundi is one of Africa’s best-equipped coffee producing countries making it well positioned to produce high quality coffee.

Yandaro’s merits as a producer of exceptional coffee were highlighted during the 2012 Prestige Cup, Burundi’s pre-cursor to its Cup of Excellence competitions. That year the station won a “Presidential” placing meaning it ended the competition with a 90+ score. The station collects the cherries from surrounding micro plantations, each of which manages no more than 600 coffee plants that are placed under natural shade.

In the cup, this subtle coffee reveals a complex blend of chocolate, brown sugar, yet still maintains a bright acidity and a floral citrus finish; a unique cup indeed.
 

Background to Greenco

Greenco is a subsidiary of BCC (Bercher Coffee Consulting), a Geneva based company established by François Bercher a few years ago.

Mr. Bercher is passionate about Burundi and its coffee and has gained extensive knowledge about, as well as has forged tight links with many key people working throughout the coffee sector, through his many years working as a coffee trader within the country. Since recently settling in Switzerland and starting his own company, François has continued to regularly source coffee from Burundi. In order to source consistently good coffee, he decided to invest his time and resources in being closer to field (e.g. through managing washing stations). In this way, he is able to have more control and influence over his coffees’ quality. This is especially crucial within an infant specialty coffee market such as Burundi’s.

Formerly being a regular buyer of coffee from Webcor (former management company and owner of Yandaro CWS) and thus knowing Webcor's operations very well, François decided to enter into a partnership with them. He knew from past experience that Webcor had purchased and run some of the best CWSs in Burundi, in part by being the first private company to buy CWSes during the country’s first stage of privatization of its coffee sector. It is therefore not surprising that with François' knowledge of Burundian coffee, his working with the best CWSes in the country, along with his high ambitions, that Greenco has had a very successful first year.


Burundi Coffee: Background context

Burundi is a landlocked country in Central Africa bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. The official languages are Kirundi and French, with pockets of Swahili being spoken mostly in Bujumbura (the capital city), along Lake Tanganyika. Hilly and mountainous, Burundi boasts ideal agroecology for coffee cultivation. The country’s economy is predominantly agricultural with more than 90% of the population dependent on subsistence agriculture. Economic growth depends very heavily on coffee and tea exports, which together account for 90% of foreign exchange earnings.

Coffee growing and production began during Belgian occupation in the early 1930s and from 1980 to 1993, Burundi invested heavily in the coffee subsector with the heavy assistance—both monetary and strategic—of the World Bank, which helped implement an ambitious program of coffee washing station construction and tree planting. During these years, the number of coffee shrubs increased from 90 million to over 220 million and 133 washing stations were built and strategically placed throughout the country. Currently, there are over 160 washing stations in Burundi.

Coffee is Burundi’s biggest export revenue earner, making up as high as 80% of earnings. There are 600 000 families, close to 40% of the population, involved in the coffee subsector. Until 2007, the coffee subsector was controlled by the state, with the result that all facilities (i.e. washing stations and dry mills) and exporting were coordinated by the government. Coffee has historically been of low quality, subsequently receiving low prices dependent on commodities exchange markets. However, in 2006, the government started liberalizing the subsector and began allowing privatization of coffee washing stations (CWS) and dry mills leading to a continuing expansion of producer access into high quality specialty markets.

The hilly topography of Burundi has made for how the country is organized politically and infrastructurally. A colline in Burundi (i.e. hill) is like a borough or rural neighbourhood. Ultimately, a certain number of collines constitute a commune (i.e. county). The farmers that live on one colline are likely to deliver their coffee cherries to the same washing station that is located within accessible distance from their farms. The different lots represent day-lots from these wet mills.

The climate in Burundi is predominantly equatorial, but the many hilly and mountainous regions, where coffee is grown, enjoy a moderate climate. Average temperatures vary from 17 to 23C and there are distinct wet and dry seasons: the dry seasons run from June to August and again from December to January; the wet seasons are February to May and September to November. These factors, combined with the country’s agroecology, combine for an ideal environment for coffee growing. Under these conditions, cherries can undergo ideal development due to stable and the relatively low temperatures on the plains. In addition, the distinct seasons allow for a proper blossoming of the plants and good drying conditions for the coffee beans (seeds). The main flowering period runs from October until November and there are two harvesting periods: the main harvest runs from February to March; the secondary harvest from April until May.

The Inevitable Chaos that is Burundi Coffee Buying

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I'm supposed to be writing an article about my recent experiences travelling in Colombia. It was my first time travelling there (as well as in Brazil, where I later went) and having only experienced being in some of East Africa as a coffee buyer, these trips illuminated so much for me. There are many exciting developments taking place within the specialty coffee communities in both countries and learning some of the historical backgrounds behind the current innovations I was introduced to provided some much needed nuance to my perspective on the world of specialty coffee and the major roles Colombia and Brazil both play.

As is so often the case, events taking place here and now end up occupying the forefront of a place's work flow to the expense of other equally important and pressing matters. In the case of importing coffee, and taking into account the various harvest seasons CCS' schedule revolves around, Burundi should already be out of the major part of the current workflow because the coffee should have landed in our warehouse during the summertime and roasters should be well into their inventories of the current harvest. Although there are always delay-inducing minutiae that creep into every shipment from every origin, Burundi is one of those origins where things are predictably unpredictable and where one can reliably expect to have their patience tested day-after-day (I wish that were an exaggeration) during the export process.

When one chooses to import Burundian coffees, they're signing up to ride a logistical, and at least for me, emotional rollercoaster. This year the country is experiencing the culmination of a political storm that has been brewing since 2005 when the latest in a series of civil wars the country has endured, ended. Turmoil is depressingly cyclical in this country and this year it came via the heavily disputed presidential election. When working with a country that is so complicated and has so much going against it, it can be difficult not to become numb to the constant flow of shocking news that comes from partners living and breathing all that chaos.

As an importer whose main goal is to provide roasters with the very best on offer from the beautiful array of stellar coffees out there, working with Burundi has sometimes felt like an inconceivable origin to take on. To be clear, the biggest reason Collaborative Coffee Source started working in Burundi is because we came across coffees that couldn't be ignored. But throughout our short history of working there, plenty of situations have arisen where deciding to continue working in Burundi has been a source of reappraisal within the team.

All of the above is a prelude to the current situation we are faced with in trying to move our first container from Burundi to Antwerp this year. Hopefully the following will help our roasting friends understand how truly complex importing coffee can be and how the act of purchasing coffee can clearly be life altering for producers. For simplicity's sake, I'll narrate the story of this container by way of a timeline.

July 2015: Final cuppings and screenings of microlots making up the proposed container are completed and negotiations on contracts commence.

The presidential election is completed and protests, which have been occurring since late-winter, escalate into riots after the results are announced. Both of CCS' partnering exporters flee the country with their families, along with tens of thousands of other Burundians.

August 2015: Milling, packaging and preparations of export documents begin and are expected to be completed by month's end.

Our exporters travel in and out of the country to oversee the process.

September 2015: Export document preparation continues amidst continued political turmoil and violence. The shipment is delayed weekly as ARFIC's (Burundi's national coffee board) office shuts down and the directors in charge of signing and stamping export documents scatter throughout the country and our exporting partners are charged with locating them. One of the two exporters reports travelling to nine different people, in order to obtain 29 signatures and stamps for our microlots.

October 2015: As of October 20th (today), we find ourselves awaiting ONE last signature for one of the 13 microlots we're shipping in this container. We need to get the container out of the dry mill and out to Dar es Salaam port for departure to Antwerp. We were assured at the end of last week that all the necessary paperwork was completed and in order...this proved to be illusory, as we experience time and again...

The conflict in Bujumbura (Burundi's capital) continues and moves too close for comfort as one of the exporter's has his home assailed by bullets. He chooses not to publicize this, perhaps because it does not change the fact that his family and their cherry producing partners simply need to see shipments move ahead and don't see the point in inviting sympathy as it doesn't change reality in any way. These are my speculations, anyway.

In the meantime, Tanzania has a presidential election coming up on Sunday and yesterday the Dar es Salaam port authority issued us warnings about potential strife that may affect the reception of our container. We debated internally, with our exporters, with our logistics partner, about the pros and cons of moving now or waiting. We ended up choosing to move ahead with shipment today, only to learn that the paperwork was in fact, not in order.

Hence my writing of this post now. Upon commiserating about all of this with a colleague and struggling with all the practical and emotional complexity this situation poses, we come to the conclusion that this story needs to be shared in the hopes that in the sharing, more people might develop the appreciation for all the efforts and struggle that goes into producing the beautiful coffee that this container holds. Over the past weeks, our team has been continually stunned by the quality we're tasting from these microlots. It's led to an increasingly popular refrain around here that Burundi is becoming "the new Kenya".

Sincerely hope you all agree when the gems making up this shipment finally land in your roasteries.

-Melanie