Despite the political imbalance that has prevailed over the capital city in Burundi (Bujumbura) this past year, we needed and decided to travel to the northern provinces of Kayanza and Ngozi (via Kigali) last week to visit and plan the coming season with our close partners. Burundi might currently be a part of the bottom 10 poorest countries in the world with many corruption issues and a lack of infrastructure, but there is hope and good reasons to continue doing business in Burundi.
Burundi lives through coffee: over 80% of its export revenues come from it. And coffee people like Luis Garcia of Greenco and Ben Carlson of Long Miles Coffee are making significant changes in Burundi’s coffee sector – both in how business is conducted with the famers and the strides they’re making with quality control. This post is dedicated to their work.
Luis Garcia lived and worked in Switzerland until he moved to Burundi around this time last year. Young, ambitious, and with lots of courage, he went from working in finance and trading commercial coffee to managing 13 washing stations in Burundi. For most, this is an impossible task; for Luis, this is a challenge he accepted fully and is now energetically taking full-on. Last year he entered into a situation full of corruption and quality inconsistency which he is striving to turnaround into a transparent and stable Greenco.
Implementing everything within one year isn’t realistic, but setting accurate goals for every year to come is. From management, to digitizing information about the 41 000+ families that deliver cherries to Greenco’s 13 washing stations, to transparent payment systems, and consistent recording of cupping scores, Luis and his team are methodically revising the whole organization. And at the washing station level, the teams are charged with meticulous cherry sorting, introducing new processing techniques (e.g. using cold water to prevent pre-fermentation), revamping facilities (e.g. painting fermentation takes with an epoxy coat), grading parchment at least three times and color sorting prior to milling, and now the team is also UV-light sorting at the mill for defects. We are delighted to see that Greenco and Luis share the same focus on quality as our small scale specialty producers in other origins. Harvest begins very soon.
Five years ago, the whole Carlson family decided to move to Bujumbura, Burundi to start the Long Miles Coffee Project. Today, they own two beautiful washing stations, where over 3000 neighbouring families deliver their coffee cherries. The relatively smaller scale of this project makes it possible for the LMCP team to focus on details and keep creating solutions as they go. One of their most successful implementations has been in forming ‘coffee scout teams’ that travel from village to village to teach farmers about best agricultural practices and how to manage the potato defect by picking, by hand, antestia bugs that infect coffee cherries. As well, the LMCP team is uncompromisingly selective about the cherries they accept from their neighbouring farmers, wherein only the ripest are bought. In terms of processing, the team applies different processing methods (fully washed, red honey, natural) to create diversity and exciting flavour profiles. All this is even before the pre-drying, moisture level and water activity readings they take.
Burundi’s poverty and sometimes harsh and difficult export environment has been challenging for us since the beginning of our work there in 2012. It’s important to acknowledge these realities both in respect to what our suppliers experience and also in being open about the work we are doing there. We keep coming back year-after-year not only because it’s a stunningly beautiful country with beautiful coffee, but because we believe in our friends and partners and the amazing work they are doing there.