Buhorwa is a washing station near Bukeye, Burundi. This is our seventh year featuring Buhorwa, and this relationship remains emblematic of our approach to responsible, collaborative sourcing. Although it feels like a very long time 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.
We began this relationship with Crop to Cup, a longtime importing of ours who began working with Buhorwa since 2009. In collaboration with the Burundi chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and roasting partners like ourselves, Crop to Cup has facilitated 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 for the past several 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.
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 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.
For this year’s Buhorwa purchase, we transitioned to working with a Canadian importing partner, Apex Coffee, who is directly linked with TGP—the exporting operation in Burundi. Despite logistical delays that caused the coffee to arrive to us much later than years past, we are very happy with the flavor profile—mellow but crisp acidity, with its signature citrus and tea-like characteristics sitting nicely atop a dried fruit foundation. In the cup, we taste grapefruit, black tea, and dates.