Despite the political turmoil Bujumbura has known since the disputed presidential elections last year, we do not want to abandon the country. Burundi relies heavily on coffee for the well-being of its people, so we keep on supporting the Burundi coffee industry! In the meantime, life in Burundi goes on and the Burundian people who decided to stay in the country stand strong. Aurélie was getting married in Bujumbura, which was a perfect occasion to travel back to Burundi after last year’s visit. Also, our partner Greenco was preparing for the small cupping competition that was organised in Burundi in collaboration with Cup of Excellence. Perfect timing to get a view of what we can expect this Autumn!
Greenco was the giant in the 2015 Cup of Excellence competition. No less than 11 out of 27 winning washing stations were managed by Greenco. The new company took over an already existing group of washing stations to restructure and renew the organisation. In a year and a half, Greenco’s quality focus has already paid off. As a healthy, new organisation with transparent cash flow and good management, Greenco is one of the drivers of the current quality-oriented coffee production chain. The producers receive good remuneration for their work, and are paid correctly on the set payment days. Currently, they oversee 13 washing stations in the Kayanza region of northern Burundi.
The majority of the washing station managers are young and dynamic agronomists, who not only know coffee, but also know how to work with computers. This has greatly simplified information flow, traceability of the lots and communication between the stations and quality control. Big efforts have been made to address the challenge of the potato defect. The quality team uses UV lamps to inspect the quality of the coffee beans. Affected beans light up under the lamp and can easily be taken out. Next to that, they have a test project with electronic noses underway. These highly sensitive sensors detect the smell of infected beans, which are then removed. More research on preventive measures is also being carried out, to reduce the incidence of the potato defect in the first place, rather than only removing it after the damage has been done.
In addition to these quality checks, the washing stations are also being fixed up on a regular basis. Fermentation and washing tanks and channels have been re-coated with extra-durable paint so they remain clean throughout the entire season. The quality of the coffee is monitored strictly and recorded during all processing steps. Each washing station also has a large nursery bed with seedlings for farm renewal.
According to figures of the UN, coffee accounts for 80% of Burundi’s export earnings. 55% of the population depends on coffee for an income. The government has organised the coffee sector in SOGESTALs (Societé de Gestion de Stations de Lavage) or washing station management companies. Apart from these state-owned companies, private companies could also buy washing stations at the time when privatization of the coffee sector was encouraged by the World Bank. The large majority of the Sogestals and washing stations, however, are still owned by the state.
Due to the financial crisis, foreign investment in the country stopped and exports took a blow as well. Coffee production numbers dropped by 30% this year because many people have fled the country in the meantime, abandoning their plantations. With little money flowing back into the country, a dramatic number of coffee producers have not received payment for over a year for the cherries they sold to the washing stations.
When the coffee producers come to the washing station after a day’s harvest to sell their cherries, they usually don’t get paid straight away. They receive a cherry receipt note, which records the volume and quality they delivered and the price of the cherry that day. On payment day, the management of the washing station usually brings cash to the station to pay all registered coffee producers. These can come to the washing station with their cherry receipt note if they want to receive payment. They can also choose to keep the note and cash on a later date if they want to save the money for future projects.
The shortage of money in the country has made it hard for many washing stations to pay the producers for their cherries. When we were visiting end of June together with Luis, who leads Greenco, we were lucky to witness the grand payment day at Butegana washing station. Normally, this is a day of big celebration, but a wait-and-see vibe hung in the air. People had been queuing since 10am, and some had already received their payment when we arrived. The overjoyed reaction of these people was touching. An elderly lady danced and clapped her hands out of gratitude when she saw Luis. You would assume payment is the natural way of things, but this face-to-face with reality put things in perspective.
Burundi coffee – Autumn 2016
Learning about the current situation of the Burundi coffee producers made it all the more clear that this beautiful country cannot be overlooked. We’re proud to be working with Greenco, and to help the communities around the washing stations reach a larger international market and fetch higher premiums for their work. There’s some perfectly delicious coffees to be found in Burundi, for those who can put their fear of the potato defect aside. A growing number of projects are addressing this defect in different ways, working hard to reduce and hopefully eliminate it from the country’s challenges. There are trainings on bug catching and quality checks with UV light and electronic noses to sort out defect beans, to name a few. The results have already been promising!
We have supported Burundi coffee producers and washing stations since the start of 32cup, and we will continue buying and promoting Burundian coffee. The coffees we have tasted from Greenco washing stations like Nemba, Masha, Yandaro and Kibingo this harvest already would convince even the most potato-frightened coffee roaster. The lots we selected will be available for deliveries by Autumn. Stay tuned to find out about our cuppings!
The Burundian cupping competition is taking place in Ngozi this week. The live auction will be held on-site in Ngozi on July 17th, together with the representatives of the washing stations who made it to the final selection.