The first Arabica coffee tree in Burundi was introduced by the Belgians in the early 1930s and coffee cultivation has been growing in the country ever since.
In its history, the coffee subsector of Burundi has been managed under four different organizational structures: coercive under the Belgians until independence in 1962; completely private from 1962 to 1976; completely public from 1976 to 1991; and, undergoing privatization since 1991.
From 1980 to 1993, Burundi invested heavily in the coffee subsector with assistance from the World Bank, engaging in an ambitious program of coffee washing station construction and tree planting. The number of coffee trees increased from 90 million to, reportedly, over 220 million during this period and Burundi constructed and equipped 133 strategically placed washing stations capable of producing consistently supply of fully washed coffee. Today, there are over 160 washing stations in the country. Through these years, coffee production in Burundi increased rapidly. On average, over 31,000 metric tons were produced per year, but with the advent of the civil war in 1993 the production of coffee took a precipitous downward turn.
In the mid-2000s, after over a decade of civil strife, Burundi returned to the development of its coffee industry, giving rise, once again, to its coffee production by investing in producing higher quality coffee and, through the course of the sector’s privatization and liberalization, in building stronger ties with the international market. (Historical Production Data)
During these years, a series of reforms were initiated, amongst them and of particular significance were the decree to deregulate prices for coffee cherries and washed parchment, the enlargement of the Consultative Committee on the Commercialization of Coffee to include producers and representatives from all aspects of coffee production, and the liberalization of direct export sales. In 2008, Burundi opened the doors to buyers of specialty coffee through market legislation liberalizing the sector to allow for direct sales contracts.
An outcome of coffee sector privatization is that coffee growers became more organized, forming smaller cooperatives (linked directly to the washing stations). What is especially important about this coffee cooperative movement in Burundi is that it plays directly into the new developments in the global specialty coffee industry. This is an industry that, increasingly by consumer demand, requires high quality coffees and looks to “put a face on coffee,” moving it from commodity status to a traceable, personalized status that gives the producers and their communities a fair price and broader recognition and compensation for their success in producing quality coffees. From the perspective of specialty coffee traceability these smaller associations will offer Burundi an important opportunity for producing smaller, high value lots of coffee with distinct flavor profiles and a highly “marketable face.”
As of December 2009, a new coffee development authority, ARFIC, was created to serve as a regulatory agency for the coffee sector, which along with monitoring production and maintaining coffee statistics, will have the responsibility for licensing and certifying quality and origin for exports. InterCafé Burundi is a trade association that has been created to direct the promotion, branding and marketing of Burundi coffee, this association is composed of producers, processors, wet millers and exporters, and it aims to bring all the members of the industry together to promote and set standards for the growing, processing and exporting of Burundi Coffee.