Burundi is a small landlocked country in East Africa that covers over 27,000 square kilometers. Coffee is strategic to its economy, accounting for nearly two-thirds of its export. Introduced in the 1920s, coffee from Burundi is among the highest quality coffees produced in the world. However, political instability at home and in neighboring countries along with climate change has continued to hinder the growth of Burundi's much needed coffee sector.
In the early 1990s, reforms were ushered in including the privatization, deregulation and restructuring of the coffee sector advocated by both the World Bank and IMF. Early efforts were strained by aging coffee trees and a workforce ill equipped to improve production. It would take another 20 years before the country saw an opportunity to revitalize the sector. In 2009, the government issued a decree to allow for foreign direct investment. The privatization of several coffee processing units(washing stations and drying mills) brought in international coffee conglomerates as well as small-medium specialty coffee importers who were looking to streamline the supply chain by purchasing specialty coffees direct from origin. Their resources and presence on the ground has helped bring Burundi back to the forefront as a leader in quality coffee.
Majority of the coffee produced in Burundi (96%) is of the Arabica species with Red Bourbon being the only varietal, by law, cultivated. The quality of Burundi coffees is prized around the world due in large part to the volcanic soil in the mountainous regions which is packed with nitrogen, a property which coffee plants thrive on. Traditionally, coffee from Burundi was processed as Washed or Semi-Washed coffees. However, with the growth of the specialty coffee industry; natural and honey processed coffees are being more available. Still, washed coffees are king, totalling 80% of annual exports.
The industry employs over 1.7 million people with 600,000 to 800,000 smallholder farmers directly impacted by the trade of coffee. The average small holder has 0.5 hectares of land which can hold up to 250 coffee trees. As farmers learn new technologies to improve quality, premiums on microlots will continue to increase. Smallholder farmers have seen the potential in improving practices on the farm and exporters and government organizations continue to assist with this process.
Coffee Regions of Burundi
Burundi has five main coffee-producing regions: Buyenzi, Kirimiro, Mumirwa, Bweru, and Bugesera. Of course there are other regions which grow on much smaller scales but these are the most commonly traded by name.
Buyenzi is a large area in Northern Burundi, bordering Rwanda. It is the main coffee-producing region. There are two prominent regions which should be highlighted. In Kayanza, the weather is mild, with an average annual temperature of 18°C, while most coffee farms are between 1,700 and 2,000 m.a.s.l. The highest rainfall is in April, while July is drier. All these conditions combine to create coffee known for its high acidity and citric notes. In 2015, a Kayanza coffee scored 91.09 in the Cup of Excellence. Ngozi lies in the northeast of Burundi, and has a similar elevation. While it produces less coffee than Kayanza, it also shows the potential for excellent quality. In 2015, a Cup of Excellence winning lot scored 88.92, while several other lots scored above 85.
Kirundo is in Northeast Burundi. However, the region has great potential as farmers partner with owners of washing stations to improve cultivation and harvesting practices on the farm. Most farms lie between 1,4000-1,800 masl.
Muyinga is in the Northwest and borders Tanzania. Coffee grows at an average of 1,800 m.a.s.l. and the region has typical Burundian conditions: a mild climate, volcanic soil, and an annual rainfall of around 1,300 mm.
This is in Central Burundi, and it is a mountainous area with lower rainfall than other parts of the country.
Producers in Focus
For years, we have admired the hard work and determination Angele Ciza, founder of Kahawa Link Company or Kalico, has done to promote quality Burundi coffee on a global scale. Founded in 2012, Kalico started with seven washing stations in the Kirundo and Muyinga Provinces in North-East Burundi. Serving over 3,000 smallholder farmers, it was important to ensure the highest quality from farm to farm. Angele and her team began several outreach programs to educate farmers on better cultivating and harvesting practices. In addition to education, she has also opened the door to investment by offering micro-credits and insurances to farmers in the hopes of securing their future equity in coffee.