Burundi Coffee Production and Sourcing Guide
Updated: Aug 15, 2022
Burundi has long been a country known for its farming with a large part of the population involved in agriculture. Even today, agriculture, including coffee, has been the prime industry for supporting the people of Burundi.
Most coffee grown in Burundi comes from Arabica coffee, brought by Belgian colonists to the region in the early 1930s and German imperialists even sooner. This introduction benefitted the foreign occupation at the expense of the Burundi people, establishing a vast inequality which meant that coffee production benefited the economies of foreign governments while driving the people of Burundi into further poverty.
Even so, Burundi has a reputation of being one of the best countries for producing speciality coffee beans in Africa, despite its smaller total output compared to other top coffee-producing countries. This is an amazing testament to the unique soil conditions, and the dedication of local growers in the face of the near-constant state of turmoil that Burundi has been challenged with since its independence from Belgium in the 1960s.
The country sits within the famed Great Rift Valley near other major exporters that the coffee world associates with a quality brew: Uganda, Rwanda, and Malawi to name a few.
Does Burundi Grow Coffee?
Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 70% of its population living in poverty. Even still, it is hailed as one of the premier regions for speciality coffee in the entire world. Arabica is the primary coffee crop of Burundi, with beans that are grown at high altitudes and known to have rich, sweet flavours.
Burundi has a wide variety of natural resources that allow for many agricultural industries and businesses to thrive within its borders, including famed Burundi coffee production: one of the earliest industries established within this country due to it being a sought-after cash crop and having the soil conditions suited for coffee-growing regions.
Burundi Coffee Farming
Smallholder farmers and co-operatives account for most of the coffee growing in Burundi. It has been estimated that upwards of one million Burundi families are employed by the country’s coffee industry.
The foundation for Burundian coffee production is the soil condition, which is the reason why occupying nations had coveted and forced coffee production in the early 20th century. Burundi's soil has been shaped by volcanic activity resulting in ideal soil quality for exceptional coffee cherries. This volcanic soil provides a healthy environment for growth as well as a taste profile distinct to the region.
Coffee, being a tree crop, requires nutrient-rich soil that also must contain higher acidity. Despite exceptional soil in the coffee-growing regions, Burundi faces ecological challenges that make overall growing conditions increasingly difficult. Namely, coffee tree plots tend to be small, and widespread erosion threatens a loss of nutrient-rich soil.
Having smaller plots of land for growing means that coffee trees tend to be older than the optimal growing age reducing the quality and quantity of yields as each tree ages. Farmers of these smaller plots tend to hold onto their established trees rather than invest in planting new trees resulting in lower income and higher poverty rates.
Topography erosion washes away prime growing soil, leaving land that is hard-pressed to sustain nutrient-demanding crops such as coffee trees. To make matters more troublesome, there is limited access to coffee specific fertilizer used to supplement degraded soil. In recent years, Burundi farmers have been restricted to only using fertilizers distributed from within the country. This access to fertilizer is not consistent for farmers, as the government does not give subsidized fertilizer every year, as expected. When they don’t subsidize, farmers can’t buy the fertilizer on their own. This too has limited the quantity and quality of fertilizers available to coffee farmers.
Where is coffee grown in Burundi?
Burundi is located within the Albertine Rift of The Great Rift Valley in Africa. This area is mountainous, which gives Burundi coffee a unique and invigorating body with an overall sweetness. The average elevation throughout the country is 1,700 meters above sea level.
Though coffee farms are found all over Burundi, most coffee production takes place in the Northwest, within regions such as Buyenzi, Kirimiro, Mumirwa, Bweru, and Bugesera.
Burundi Coffee Production Regions
Kirimiro region in Burundi is in the central part of the country, neighbouring other favourable coffee growing regions. Its coffee production is especially lucrative in the North, towards Buyenzi. Temperatures in Kirimiro range from 12 to 18°C on average, with rainfall at around 1,100 mm per year, a high altitude, and soil packed with minerals that lend themselves to the cultivation of coffee trees.
The Bweru region borders Tanzania in the northeastern part of Burundi. It is one of the most fertile regions in the country, nurturing some of the best coffee beans in the world with rich soil, an elevation of 1800 meters, and an average annual rainfall of 1,300 mm.
Despite yields for Bugesera being overall lower than other parts of Burundi, it holds a long history of producing high-quality coffee beans. The region borders Rwanda, and has an altitude that ranges from 1,400 to 1,600 meters above sea level.
The Bugesera region has favourable conditions for premium growing coffee trees even though yields are lower.
Buyenzi is one of the premier regions in Burundi for growing coffee because of its mild climate: an average annual temperature of 18°C, farms located between 1,700 and 2,000 meters above sea level, giving the plants plenty of rain in April and the opportunity to dry out by July without having to worry about over-ripening.
These conditions all combine to result in high-quality coffee known to have citric notes. This is one of the premier regions in Burundi for premium coffee growing.
Mumirwa is another important region for coffee growth in Burundi, bordering both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its farming altitudes range from 1,100 to 2,000 meters above sea level, with an annual rainfall of 1,100 mm. Temperatures there remain consistent, keeping between 18 °C and 22°C. Mumirwa is another premier region in Burundi for premium coffee growing.
What types of coffee are grown in Burundi?
Arabica Coffee trees are almost exclusively grown in Burundi. This is due to both the demand for quality beans from the country and the fact that Burundi has a limited annual yield. These factors make it more profitable to grow speciality coffee versus growing larger quantities of less desirable beans.
Types and varietals of coffee in Burundi
Bourbon coffee varietals are some of the most popular coffee beans in the world. They are grown in the highlands of Ethiopia, Colombia, Guatemala, and of course Burundi. The beans are named after their region of origin and they have distinct flavours that make them all unique. Botanical Varietals are almost exclusively Bourbon, but Burundi grows a limited variety of Jackson, Mibirizi, and the rarer Mekong varietal.
Burundi Coffee Flavor Profile
Coffee beans grown in the country of Burundi are known for tasting sweet, with a full body and undertones of chocolate or berry and sweet acidity. With variations in flavour profile coming from the different growing altitudes, some Burundi coffees grown at higher altitudes will have a fruity and citrusy profile, while others grown lower may be more chocolatey or nutty.
Burundi Coffee Harvest Dates
The Burundi coffee harvest begins at the end of March or early April, near the end of the larger rainy season. The majority of the coffee cherries are handpicked by locals, then manually transported to nearby washing stations or collection points.
To make sure that roasting partners get a taste of the harvest, it's best to send samples during June or July. Coffee is usually exported from Burundi between September and December.
How much coffee does Burundi Produce?
In 2021, Burundi produced two-hundred and thirty thousand 60 KG bags of coffee which is a year-on-year reduction of -13.21% from the previous year1. Coffee makes up an important part of Burundi’s national economy, as well as providing work for over 150,000 people—including women and their families, a demographic that tends to struggle with income generation.
What is the current price of coffee in Burundi?
Burundi coffee market prices have changed dramatically across the years and have fallen in recent times. Before 2019, 1 kg of coffee could be going for between $2.87-$2.36 (USD). In 2019 the export price fell to a low of $1.76 (USD) per kilo, which is a reduction of -25.6% year-on-year.
Burundi Coffee Annual Export Volume
Burundi's coffee industry has been growing rapidly in recent years and they are now exporting their Arabica beans to countries such as the UK, Canada, Japan, Norway, and Germany. While the industry has grown, thanks to the rise in speciality coffee growing, the overall exports have fallen.
From Knoema: “In 2018, coffee exports quantity for Burundi was 18,394 tons. Though Burundi coffee exports quantity fluctuated substantially in recent years, it tended to decrease through 1969 - 2018 period ending at 18,394 tons in 2018.”
How to export coffee from Burundi
Finding a Burundi Coffee Producer
As a roaster to find Burundi coffee, you will first need to find a producer or cooperative, as most of the farming in Burundi is carried out by smallholder farmers. Engaging with farmers on an individual basis would be extremely time-consuming, as the process would require coordinating hundreds of smaller farms in order to get the quantity typically required for shipment. This is exactly why farmers organise themselves into cooperatives.
Finding a Burundi producer or cooperative is a more complex process than you might anticipate, as most don’t possess the digital presence that has become a standard of western culture. It's not impossible to find producers through extensive research or recommendations, however building a trusting business relationship can be difficult when you're culturally, linguistically and physically separated.
Your main competition when sourcing Burundi coffee will most likely be local traders who may know the producer or cooperatives personally. When you leave Burundi their relationship will continue, which ultimately means that you will need to keep regular contact with the producer or cooperative in order to not lose out on the opportunity to buy from them come harvest time. On several occasions, we have lost coffee to traders who come in offering a 'quick buck'.
Visiting Burundi Coffee Producers
To give yourself the best chance of sourcing Burundi coffee, you will want to visit producers pre-harvest, as if you leave it too late, the coffee will have already been committed elsewhere. Travelling to Burundi will require plenty of planning, and the flights aren’t as cheap as you might hope. The following international airlines operate flights to Bujumbura International Airport: Air Tanzania, Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, RwandAir, and Uganda Airlines, so you will need to connect and pick up one of those airlines depending on where you are located.
Once you arrive at Bujumbura airport, you can expect to spend around $50 -100 USD per day for general costs, plus $20 - $150 USD for accommodation. You will need to arrange a tour guide to take you to the production regions in hopes that you can find some individuals who might be able to provide you with coffee or point you in the right direction. For Burundi, travelling to coffee producing regions means several hours by car from Bujumbura. There are no rail or buses, so you will need to hire your own transportation.
How to arrange coffee samples from Burundi Producers
If you manage to find a producer, if you arrive out of a harvest season, you will need to arrange samples to be dispatched to your location after you've left Burundi. A reasonable cost to anticipate for shipping coffee samples from Burundi start from around $50 (USD).
When the samples arrive you’ll need to cup them, check for quality and consistency, and ultimately agree upon the price of the coffee. You will also need to make sure that the traceability of the coffee aligns with your values, you should discuss requirements with the producers when you first meet them, as it’s difficult to confirm their approach through communication and documentation alone - try to understand their approach to dealing with farmers and their production methods.
Paying for Burundi Coffee
Once you have built a relationship with a Burundi coffee producer and identified which coffee you intend to purchase, you will need to agree prices. The agreement will typically require an advance payment, this is especially true if you are working with the producer for the first time. One thing to consider is that making payments to Africa can be troublesome - your bank will probably flag it as a risk, and you can expect a call from their frauds department. Some specialist currency transfer agencies won’t allow you to send funds to certain countries based on political instability alone.
Keep in mind, you’ll need to manage the complexity of hedging against the currency exchange rate - if you exchange at the incorrect time, you could end up paying substantially more for your coffee than you should, ultimately impacting your bottom line.
Exporting Licences for Burundi Coffee
After passing the issues with the banks, and exchanging your currencies at a decent rate, you will need to check if your producer or cooperative has an export licence. If they don’t, your coffee won’t be allowed out of the country. You’ll need to track down a company that is willing to sign off and export the coffee on your behalf. This will come with an additional cost which can vary depending on their level of involvement.
Transporting Burundi Coffee for Export
To export coffee from Burundi, you'll need to consider how to transport it from the producer to your roastery. The likelihood is that this won’t be done by the producer; you’ll need to find a logistics provider who can collect the coffee from what is likely to be an extremely rural location with poor vehicle access. This means that you can rule out most of the big logistics partners. Instead, look for a local company that is familiar with the difficulties of haulage in the region.
A to B is actually from producer to a major shipping port at this stage. For Burundi, this means transporting your coffee to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, so you now have to ensure your coffee has all of the correct papers for transportation through Tanzania, a journey that will take around 2-weeks of driving time.
Once your coffee reaches the main port in Dar es Salaam you’ll need to have a pre-arranged international logistics firm instructed to move your coffee from the port to your choice of destination. For a single container or less, you can expect to pay a substantial surcharge for the cost of shipping since you won’t be dealing with the volume that dedicated exporters can leverage for discounts. You will need to make sure that this is arranged before the coffee reaches the post, otherwise, you risk several levies, fines, and charges for your coffee sitting at the dock.
Receiving your Burundi Coffee
Now that your coffee is on board the vessel and on its way to your destination, you’ll need to make sure that you have a company to manage the arrival of the coffee that will charge you a ‘landing fee’ to get it off the boat. This involves working with the port to remove the container, then coordinating it onto a vehicle capable of transporting a shipping container and taking it to the ultimate destination of the coffee.
The destination needs to be large enough to store the volume of beans you have purchased, with an environment suitable for storing coffee. If not, either its quality will degrade much faster, or, worst-case scenario, it will spoil from unsuitable moisture or temperature levels.