Buhorwa is a washing station near Bukeye, Burundi. This is our fifth year featuring Buhorwa, and it remains emblematic of our approach to responsible, collaborative sourcing. In the spring of 2019, we had the opportunity to visit Buhorwa with our importing partners, Crop to Cup.
Crop to Cup has 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. Long-term, ongoing goals are to encourage 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 in both 2019 and 2020.
In addition to the gargantuan complexities introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, logistical difficulties in Burundi were exacerbated last year 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. Potential problems include heightening the opacity of the specialty market for small landholders and emerging producers, accelerating production incentivization for large commercial lots and the consolidation of purchasing power among fewer buyers, increasing obstacles to small lot separation, heightening administrative fees and hurdles, and decelerating the fulfillment of secondary impact objectives outlined by partially privately held sogetals in the past.
Despite these 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 tangerine, earl grey, and honeysuckle.