Situated in Southeast Africa, Burundi is a landlocked country bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the south and east and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Traditionally, Burundi was a kingdom ruled by the Twa, Tutsi and Hutu people until it was colonised towards the end of the 19th Century by Germany. Following the First World War, the League of Nations gave the region known as ‘Ruanda-Urundi’ (now Rwanda and Burundi) to Belgium who began to rule through the dominant Tutsi chiefs and princes. This led to a concentration of wealth amongst this group and contributed towards decades of civil unrest between the Hutu and Tutsi people. Following independence in 1962, the United Nations Security Council has recognised two separate incidences of genocide in the country with around 250,000 people killed between 1962 and 1993. There is no doubting the horrors committed during this period, but to consider Burundi only in terms of its tragedies would be wrong. It is an incredibly beautiful and culturally rich nation which also produces coffees of outstanding quality.
It is thought coffee was first introduced to Burundi by the Belgians during their rule. Plantations were established and production and sales increased, cementing coffee as an important cash crop to the country. Following independence in 1962, the coffee industry was privatised with the State only contributing to research, quality improvement and price stability – though quality and quantity gradually decreased due to political instability and the negative colonial image coffee production held. In 1976, the coffee industry retreated back into State control in an effort to improve the quality and quantity of coffee produced, this however failed and the Burundi industry has been run privately since 2009. Coffee is now Burundi’s main export and has played a large part in rebuilding the country following years of political unrest.
Burundi is quickly gaining a reputation for the production of outstanding coffee, though it has faced many challenges to achieve this. The country is very densely populated with agricultural communities and as a result, the soil is intensely used. This, along with the steep lie of the land has meant the effects of erosion are keenly felt in some areas. The capital investment required to produce coffees of specialty grade is also huge and due to issues around land ownership it is nearly impossible for smallholder farmers to access credit. Luckily, the number of privately owned mills has increased and more smallholders are able to access specialty prices.
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One such mill is ‘Buziraguhindwa’, which when translated means ‘those who do not retreat’ and is a tribute to the perseverance shown by people who remained in the area during the many civil wars. It is owned by Ramadhan Salum who set up the mill in 2010 as the first private washing station to be built in Burundi. Salum invested heavily in sourcing high quality processing equipment and learning all he could about innovative processing techniques and coffees from this station have won many rewards in recent years. Salum is also committed to working in a way that is environmentally responsible and Buziraguhindwa is currently in the process of going for organic certification. All water used in the mill is treated in a purification system before it is allowed to re-enter the surrounding area and an organic compost system is in place whereby organic fertilisers are produced and distributed to surrounding farmers in addition to free seedlings from the Buziraguhindwa nursery.
This washing station is located in the municipality of Muruta in the province of Kayanza in the north of Burundi. Smallholders here have around 200 trees each and grow coffee alongside peas, bananas and cassava for their families. The soil is volcanic, rich and fertile and conditions are just right for the production of outstanding coffee.
Cherries are handpicked and taken to Buziraguhindwa where they are pulped using a McKinnon depulper. They then undergo dry fermentation for approximately 12 hours before entering fermentation tanks to go through wet fermentation for a further 24 hours, dependent on temperature. The beans are then ready to be washed in traditional style channels before being soaked in clean water. Once clean, the parchment beans are then taken to the drying beds where they will sit for between 14 and 21 days until the desired moisture level is reached. Prior to shipment, the parchment beans are milled and sorted for defects before being packed into GrainPro for export.