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 and conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi people. Whilst there is no doubting the horrors committed during this period, 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 privatized, 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 strategy was unsuccessful and the Burundi coffee 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. Alike Rwanda, the ‘potato defect’ still effects a percentage of Burundi’s coffee production, though investment in research to minimize this are underway. In recent years, the number of privately owned mills has increased and more smallholders are producing high-quality coffees and are able to access specialty prices.