Buhorwa is a washing station near Bukeye, Burundi. This is our sixth year featuring Buhorwa, and this relationship remains emblematic of our approach to responsible, collaborative sourcing. Although it feels like a million years ago, our opportunity to visit Buhorwa in 2019 remains a highlight of our evolution as a coffee roasting company. Continuing to represent these producers year after year is one of our proudest accomplishments.
Our importing partners, Crop to Cup, have been working with Buhorwa since 2009. In collaboration with the Burundi chapter of the International Womens’ Coffee Alliance as well as roasting partners like ourselves, Crop to Cup has been able to facilitate community-driven impact initiatives with varying degrees of success over the years. Projet Vache is one such initiative, with goals of diversifying farmer income through an array of agricultural investments and practices. The initiative has many programs, but perhaps the most effective is the livestock program, which provides training in good agricultural practices with a leaning towards raising livestock. Due to the inherent instability and complexity of the coffee trade, many Burundian farmers have the opportunity to earn significantly more income from livestock than coffee, despite neither being secure enough to be a sustainable sole source. Long-term, ongoing goals are to flesh out additional sources of income to support smallholder farmers during the off-season or when crops suffer from volatile growing conditions, which are particularly common in Burundi, as demonstrated by low yields the past three years.
In addition to the gargantuan complexities continuing to be endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, logistical difficulties in Burundi were exacerbated in 2020/2021 by the de facto nationalization of cooperative washing stations. Under this system, washing stations (called Sogestals in Burundi) no longer benefit from a fusion public/private ownership model, but are instead owned and supervised by a central, governmental marketing authority that will regulate pricing and exercise greater authority over the influx of American dollars into the country’s economy. While this system is ostensibly designed to improve the national export market and domestic currency stability, similar models in Ethiopia and Kenya have demonstrated an array of adverse impacts, leading neighbours away from this pathway just as Burundi embarks upon it. 2021 was the second harvest year under this system, and despite myriad frustrations, there were some positive changes, as well. Foremost — this system sets a national minimum price paid for cherry, a price that increased 27% from 2020 to 2021. Furthermore, as stated by Crop to Cup, this system “mandates that farmers receive a same-month cash payment — no more buying cherry on credit with false promises to top up the farmer payment upon a successful export many months later.”
Despite its challenges, our partners’ commitment to the Buhorwa community remains as important as ever. Looking back on our 2019 visit, we are still moved by the resonance that two of the women leading our company struck with many of this community’s women coffee producers. It is rare and inspiring for women in rural communities to see women in positions of leadership and agency, and a reminder of some of our core values as a women-led business. Now, two years later, we are so proud to represent their coffee once again. This year, we taste pomegranate, pine syrup, and Earl Grey.