natural • smallholders • Kayanza/Ngozi • RFA
notes / melon, cherry, grape
profile / bright, floral, sweet
region / Kayanza & Ngozi
altitude / 1500+ masl
varietals / red bourbon
farm / small holder farms
producer / various washing stations
processing / natural
drying method / raised beds
importer / Greenco & Sucafina
Washing stations in Burundi produce bright and fruity naturals, though only a small quantity produced at each station each year. Inzovu – named after the Kirundi word for the wise elephant – is a solution that combines various lots from various washing stations in order to bring this RFA-certified natural at an affordable price point.
The composition of which stations contribute changes from lot to lot and year to year, and just like any lot produced at a single station, there’s flavor variation from year to year.
Most coffee trees in Burundi are Red Bourbon. Because of the increasingly small size of coffee plantings, aging rootstock is a very big issue in Burundi. Many farmers have trees that are over 50 years old, but with small plots to farm, it is difficult to justify taking trees entirely out of production for the 3-4 years it will take new plantings to begin to yield.
Despite the ubiquity of coffee growing in Burundi, each smallholder produces a relatively small harvest. The average smallholder has approximately 250 trees, normally in their backyards. Each tree yields an average of 1.5 kilos of cherry so the average producer sells about 200-300 kilos of cherry annually.
HARVEST AND POST-HARVEST
During the harvest season, all coffee is selectively hand-picked. Most families only have 200 to 250 trees, and harvesting is done almost entirely by the family. Even small distances can be time consuming and expensive to travel for smallholder farmers, and they know that receiving cherry immediately after harvest is crucial to quality. Therefore, smallholders can bring their cherries either directly to a washing station or to one of the 10-15 collection sites situated throughout growing areas. Farmers are paid the same for their quality cherry regardless of where they bring their cherries. In this way, farmers are not disadvantaged due to their location and the cost of transport to washing stations is taken care of at no extra cost to the farmer.
Quality assurance begins as soon as farmers deliver their cherry. All cherry is floated in small buckets as a first step to check quality. Floaters (damaged, underripe etc.) are still purchased but immediately separates the two qualities and only markets floaters as B-quality cherry. After floating, the higher quality cherry is sorted again by hand to remove all damaged, underripe and overripe cherries.
After sorting, the beans are then transported directly to the drying tables where they will dry slowly for 3-4 weeks. Cherry is laid out in a single layer. Pickers go over the drying beans for damaged or defective beans that may have been missed in previous quality checks. The washing station is very strict about allowing only the highest quality cherry to complete the drying process.
The average cherry buying price for this coffee is significantly above average. Washing stations make the first payment to farmers between 15-30 June. The second payment comes later in the summer. If the coffee wins a competition or sells for extremely high specialty prices, another payment approximately a year after the harvest season is given to the farmers.
Once dry, the parchment coffee is then bagged and taken to the warehouse. A team of expert Q-Graders assess every lot (which are separated by station, day and quality) at the lab. The traceability of the station, day and quality is maintained throughout the entire process.
Before shipment, coffee is sent to Budeca, Burundi’s largest dry mill. The coffee is milled and then hand sorted by a team of hand-pickers who look closely at every single bean to ensure zero defects. It takes a team of two hand-pickers a full day to look over a single bag. UV lighting is also used on the beans and any beans that glows—usually an indication of a defect—is removed.
The mill produces an average of 300 containers of 320 bags per year. Budeca is located in Burundi’s new capital city, Gitega. The city has a population of around 30,000 people. Since there are approximately 3,000 people working at the mill, mostly as hand pickers, this means that Budeca employs nearly 10% of the total population in Gitega for at least half the year (during the milling season). The same is true in the provinces of Ngozi and Kayanza, where Greenco and Bugestal are the first employers in the region during the coffee harvest season. This has an incalculable impact on a country like Burundi, with unemployment rates above 50%, especially in rural areas and among young people.
RFA stands for Rainforest Alliance, a certification system that emphasizes climate-smart agriculture. RFA farms have at least 40% of land covered in canopy, significant species diversity (at least 12 native tree species per hectare, on average) and a system of natural vegetation buffers between agricultural land and bodies of water. The farms also use organic fertilizers.