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The biggest news for Burundi and for our producing partner, Buhorwa Washing Station, is surprisingly not COVID. While the virus wreaks havoc in other producing countries, Burundi has thankfully been spared.
Instead, Burundi is experiencing a large scale industry upheaval spearheaded by the government. The longstanding “Sogestal” network which is a combination of public-private ownership of washing stations has been scrapped. In a sense, it has been nationalized by the government. All the Sogestal stations are now owned and managed by ODECA, the new central coffee marketing authority for Burundi, based in Bujumbura. ODECA has also launched a new auction system for export, in order to better control pricing and ensure USD funds stay in the country.
The auction system carries with it many risks that we’ve seen in other producing countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia. In fact, successful specialty players like Ethiopia have begun to do away with many of the auction requirements that were holding back the expansion of the specialty sector. Burundi, ignoring neighbors’ experiences, now focuses instead on its currency needs. What this means is large commercial lots that can sell quickly and micro-lots become increasingly difficult to keep separate. Keeping quality micro-lots from being sucked up by the auction system means more hurdles, more paperwork, and more fees—that is, if you can get to the micro-lots before they go to the auction block. The country’s currency needs are real and must be met for the everyday necessities of Burundians; however, these changes carry risks that may backfire on the coffee industry.
Luckily, our long-standing in-country partners closely monitor all changes and are there to help us get the choicest lots out from Buhorwa Washing Station this year.
Similar to last year, peak harvest season stretched from April to July. Lots will be shipped between September and October, and arrivals are expected in November and December.
Harvest volumes have been down as much as 50% over the year prior. This is especially discouraging as 2019 was already considered a dismal harvest with some areas recorded an 80% drop in volume. The overall lack of volume has led to a shortage in variety of micro-lots and processing methods. Sellers scramble to fulfill buyer commitments that were made during pre and mid-harvest.
We are faithfully standing by our producing partners at Buhorwa Washing Station with two thoughts in mind:
1- This is a commitment to the community around Buhorwa.
2- The safest bet we can make is to stick with producers and operations we know and can rely on during these turbulent times.
The change to full government ownership and auction system is not a positive one in our eyes. We will continue to focus our support and farmer engagement not through the exporter structure, but instead through our own agronomist consultants and trainers.
Improvements to the washing station (facilities, water treatment, etc) may slow due to the change in ownership. We will continue to push for change and focus our engagement on the coffee hills themselves and within the producer groups that supply to the now government-owned station.
Buhorwa Washing Station as a community of farmers and a place of processing high-quality lots is still standing strong. We look forward to sharing their 2020 efforts with you.
Caramel, orange pekoe, fig, lemon, butterscotch
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