Burundi is among the smallest coffee producing countries in East Africa with a population of 7.1 million. Endowed with some of the most ideal conditions for coffee production, including elevations of 1500-2000 meters (5000-6600 ft.), arabica bourbon trees and abundant rainfall, approximately 800,000 smallholder producers cultivate an average of 150-200 coffee trees as an integral part of their livelihoods. Except for a very small amount of robusta, arabica varieties represent the great majority of Burundi’s national production and are characterized by their naturally mild flavor profiles prized by coffee consumers around the world.
Large coffee plantations do not exist in Burundi, though many growers belong to local or national farmer associations and unions that are organized to enable collective and more efficient access to inputs and credit and to help ensure their voices are heard in higher level negotiations on cherry prices and other regulatory matters.
While around 80% of Burundi’s coffee is fully washed in the country’s 160+ washing stations, the remaining 20% is processed on-farm, where farmers produce washed or semi-washed coffee by pulping and sorting by hand and by drying the parchment coffee on sisal mats.
Emerging from over a decade of civil strife and economic instability Burundi is poised to regain a foothold in its ascent as a significant player in global coffee markets. Burundi is already well positioned in an increasingly privatized environment to capitalize on its comparative agro-ecological advantages and long coffee producing traditions and expand its supply of coffees to higher value specialty markets around the world.
Burundi’s goal of producing high quality coffees for specialty markets requires the application of “best agronomic practices” in the production of coffee cherries. InterCafé-Burundi, an inter-professional coffee trade association, is charged with providing coffee growers with training in targeted practices and technologies including:
- Pruning. Pruning is another important, if labor intensive, practice in coffee farming. Pruning prevents coffee trees from growing too tall and too large and producing a yield that is smaller than average and inaccessible. Proper pruning also helps to reduce plant diseases and pest infestations.
- Mulching. Mulching is the age-old agricultural practice of spreading leaves or cut grass around the trunks of a plantation crop to keep the area humid and free of weeds. The gradual decay of mulch also adds organic content to the soil. Experts in coffee cultivation say that mulching is important for the production of denser coffee beans; it increases both the quality and the quantity of the yield of coffee trees. Mulching of coffee trees is recommended and carried out all over East Africa.
- Composting and inputs use. The application of compost and other inputs such as approved fertilizers and pesticides are vital to improving higher and stable levels of cherry production. Only safe and sustainable practices are advocated by InterCafe-Burundi.
- Harvesting practices. Harvesting cherries when they are perfectly ripe and transporting them to local washing stations within six hours is the rule in Burundi. Cherries that do not conform to ripeness standards or that float when submerged in flotation tanks at the washing station are separated and discarded or processed separately on-farm as washed coffee.