Burundi Ishurwe

Written by Andrea Otte, CCR Head of Coffee

Burundi is often compared to its neighbor, Rwanda, in discussions of culture, climate, history – and coffee. The two tiny East African countries are ostensibly cousins, with shared ethnic heritage and a history of colonial occupation and oppression which shaped each. However, since the devastating 1994 Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, the two countries have been governed by very divergent politics, with the relative peace and prosperity of Rwanda drawing a stark contrast to the deep economic and political crisis that Burundians find themselves in today.




Izuba Washing Station - Welcoming Dance
Courtesy of Raw Material

 

Without mincing words, the Burundian government makes any effort at transformational change extremely difficult, even at the expense of its own people. The coffee industry, which accounts for over a third of all its exports, is subjected to strict and frequently shifting guidelines, a needless stream of red tape aimed at co-opting the greatest amount of revenue from the over 600,000 smallholder coffee farmers who live there. This makes the work of export partners, such as cooperatives and private washing stations, all the more vital, as they are often the ones able to find workarounds and form support structures which make the most sense for this unusual and difficult economic environment.

The strength of local partnerships is well understood by social enterprise importers and longtime CCR partners, Raw Material. They have been working in Burundi for over five years, believing – as we do – that the country is an oft-overlooked gem, with incredible potential and notable progress towards greater stability in the coffee sector. Since 2019, Raw Material has been working on constructing the Izuba washing station, where this year’s Ishurwe was collected, processed, dried and sorted. This new station serves over 1400 local farmers, and employees over 250 seasonal workers, making it a foundational part of the local community of Runinya.

Izuba Washing Station
Courtesy of Raw Material

 

An under-appreciated virtue of the coffee industry is not its economic benefits, but rather the positive impact that collective institutions and shared spaces can engender. Places for informal meetings, for community learning and story sharing, for activities such as dancing and singing – these are the unsung benefits of the coffee industry at large, both here and abroad. The Izuba washing station is an important step in the economic stability of the farmers, but with strict government-controlled prices for coffee, the impact of quality-based price premiums is lesser and more dangerous to execute in Burundi than in most other countries. Therefore the other, less tangible benefits of the station – seasonal employment, training and education, fertilizer and seedling dispersion, to name a few – are the ones which may, in fact, make the greatest impact on individual wellbeing at the present moment.

 

The Izuba station is located close to a river, providing much needed fresh water for the processing of coffee. To help control for ‘potato defect’ which is a particular concern in Burundian coffees, the station floats all cherries in long channels before they are sent to be depulped, allowing underripes or defectives to be skimmed off the top. The additional step of hand sorting is then responsible for removing any subpar beans, after which the coffee is dried and sorted again, meaning the final product is extremely clean and defect-free, having passed through quite literally hundreds of hands before it arrives at our roastery.

 

Caravan are proud supporters of emerging origins and are delighted to share the story of Izuba with our customers around the world.