Burundi has been through a lot over the years. Coffee’s grown here for almost 100 years with the peak of production during the 1980s. After a civil war that started in 1993 and ended in 2005, they’ve been trying to rebuild the industry. A failed coup attempt in 2015 put the country on edge, making coffee more important than ever. The fertile soil and high altitudes make the country suited to coffee growing, with over 650,000 families’ incomes coming directly from it (40% of the population). Coffee and tea make up nearly 50% of export earnings.
Sulum is the proud owner of 4 washing stations, 4 plantations and a new dry mill. The Dry mill is in Kayanza town and the washing stations and plantations are in Kayanza and Ngozi. These are the two regions with the most coffee activity and are the most famous for specialty coffee in Burundi.
The season finished 2 months before we arrived so there were plenty of fresh coffees to be cup and buy. Our first stop was the Shembati washing station a 2-hour drive from the capital, Bujumbura.
Shembati is 2 years old and sits at the top of a valley around 1800 metres above sea level. There are around 4000 farmer families that bring coffee cherry to the washing station. Salum runs a tight ship with well-trained station managers and keen young staff. He keeps the manager alongside a few others between seasons, unlike many other stations that close right down.
Like all of Sulums’ washing stations, there is a nursery on-site and they make compost with leftovers from the de-pulping process. They hold training sessions on picking, pruning and fertilising methods. They pay well above the government minimum for cherry and depending on quality it can be up to twice as much
When the cherry arrives it goes through a sorting process. The cherry goes in small reservoirs; they remove any floating cherries and then continue to process with either Washed, Honey or Natural methods. They can separate lots by the names of villages and areas near the station.
We made our way to a nearby village called Nkango. Sulum started a plantation here that is now producing great coffee. He has taken it upon himself to help the village by employing them to work the plantation alongside their own crops. Over the years the people who live here have had a tough time. They are a pigmy tribe and years of unfair treatment has left them impoverished. This means that disease like Malaria can have a devastating effect.
Now with income coming in they now have mosquito netting and vehicles in the village if someone needs to get to a doctor. Sulum has also paid for medical staff to visit the village. On our visit, it seemed like the whole village came out and sung for us. A very moving experience.
Next, we made our way to Mbrizi washing station. Because we bought an amazing Honey lot from here last year we were excited to visit.
Mbrizi is one of Sulums older washing stations. The government changed the rules around collection stations. As a result, they built more stations like Sehe and Shembati.
Traceability in Burundi can go back as far as the washing stations and in most cases with Sulum, back to the village close to the station.
For Transparency, we can get the F.O.B price that Sulum received and know he is paying the smallholders a good amount for the quality picking. It’s amazing to have people like Sulum on the ground doing good work. As we grow we hope to buy more coffee from Burundi, it offers so much in opportunity and its bloody delicious.