July 3, 2017

Burundian Coffee: Stop Listing Problems, Start Taking Action


Burundi is known for its deep poverty, civil unrest, and levels of hunger. Poor infrastructure, from a lack of good roads to electricity shortages, causes difficulties.

Yet among coffee lovers, this country is also known for its clean, juicy brews and double washed processing. It has a reputation for high quality.

I work with Project Akawa to revitalize the Burundian coffee industry. Here’s how we’re attempting to do so.

SEE ALSO: A Guide to Buying & Importing Coffee From Burundi

BurundiValerie, a coffee producer in the Kabarore commune. Credit: GREENCO

Burundi: The Basics

Burundi is in East Africa, alongside the African Great Lakes. It shares borders with Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. Despite being one of the world’s smallest territories, it is relatively densely populated with 450 people sq/km (UN data, 2016). (For context, the US has 35 people sq/km, France 118, and India 446.)

The country, which is known as the “Heart of Africa”, has suffered nearly two decades of conflict and civil unrest. In 2015 alone, political unrest caused the death of 250 civilians. Many more fled the country to find safety.

This is no way for anybody to live.

The UN has labeled Burundi a “least developed country”, meaning the standard of living is remarkably low. In fact, 6 in 10 citizens live below the poverty line and only 50% have access to running water.

Burundi Children of coffee producers. Credit: Antoine De Saint-Seine

Coffee Brings Possibilities & Challenges

For the people of Burundi, coffee is much more than just a hot drink. In 2015, it accounted for 27% of total exports (MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity), meaning it has huge potential to bring change to the entire country.

However, over the last 20 years, coffee production has more than halved. In 2015, the country produced just 200,000 60-kilo bags (ICO). It is turning into a vicious circle: low yields mean low income from coffee, which results in less effort and investment into coffee trees, which in turn means lower yields.  

Increasing privatization of the Burundian coffee market has enabled more direct trade, yet it has also led to complaints that private bodies are failing to support farmers. IWACU English News reports stories of coffee producers being charged for fertilizer that they do not receive – in essence, leading producers to see less income for no benefit.

BurundiA coffee producer on his farm. Credit: Antoine De Saint-Seine

Talking Solutions, Not Problems

While Burundi may be facing challenges, we cannot give up: instead, we must explore the different paths open to the country’s producers.

And as part of the Akawa Project, we focus on four different solutions to the country’s difficulties. Some of these have already begun; others will start in the near future.

Coffee Nurseries & Plant Renovation

It is important to renovate existing farms. This can be done through a combination of providing producers with new plants and improving old land.

Aging coffee trees produce a lower cup quality and a lower yield. As of such, we have implemented plant nurseries to supply plants to farmers for free. Old plants can also be pruned and revived to increase the yield.

Additionally, we are providing producers with farm equipment so they can weed and properly manage their land.

coffee cherriesCoffee cherries ripening on the branch. Credit: Louis Mayaud

Knowledge Exchange

Supremo, which funds the Akawa Project, has employed 7 highly trained agronomists. Their job is to pass on their knowledge to a larger network of people.

Training and the transfer of expertise will take place in the fields, at the washing stations, or at the processing mill – not in a classroom or meeting room. When all training is done in a hands-on environment, complete with a purpose and achievable target, it becomes more relevant.

Through this knowledge transfer, producers will learn newer and more productive methods of farming. For example, they will learn all about the application and benefits of using fertilizer. With a small input, the quality and yield of their crop can increase.

Additionally, we focus on skills and techniques that will, in a short time, offer a cash return to the farmers.   

BurundiProducers gather for a training program. Credit: Antoine De Saint-Seine.

Water Treatment

One step that we have already implemented is the improvement of the existing washing stations. As the vast majority of Burundian coffee is either washed or double washed, this can have a huge impact.

In particular, we’re focusing on water purification. In a country prone to drought, this can make the most of a valuable resource. It’s also more environmentally friendly and causes less damage to the country’s existing water sources.

In coordination with our friends and partners at Succam, we have created a water treatment process. Water is filtered through minerals in the ground with the simple use of gravity. It is a low-cost way to remove any dirty particles, and enable the water to safely re-enter into use.

Our next step will be to produce more advanced treatment facilities, with the aim of getting water that is just as fresh as it was before use in coffee processing. A secondary project of ours is to build water wells and pipes to deliver clean water.

BurundiCoffee being washed processed. Credit:  Antoine De Saint-Seine

Soil Care

Fertilizer can mean the difference between a fruitful, high-quality harvest and one that is below average. As of such, we provide free fertilizer to farmers. The aim to apply fertilizer twice a year.

coffee flowerCoffee flowers. Credit: Louis Mayaud

Our aim is to rebuild the strong coffee culture that once lived in Burundi. We want to help change unproductive methods – and we believe that, with knowledge from individuals and groups around the world, we can.

Sustainability means creating a system whereby farmers and families are able to rely on themselves to live. Our aim in Burundi is to implement systems that will have this impact.

It’s time to stop talking problems, and start focusing on solutions.

Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article, and cannot directly endorse them.

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