Origin Update: Burundi
Words by 49th Green Coffee Buyer, David Pohl
Burundi is one of those origins that often flies under the radar but is very much deserving of more attention. A small, landlocked country of 11.5 million people in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa, Burundi can trace its coffee growing culture back to the 1930s when the Dutch first planted bourbon trees in the hills dotting the countryside. At a certain point, all farmers were required to plant a small amount of coffee, and today there are over 700,000 farming families, a high number for the population (Colombia for instance with a population of 50 million has just 550,000 coffee farming families).
49th has sporadically bought coffees from Burundi, beginning to offer lots with regularity three years ago when we began a partnership with the Sucafina affiliated export entity Greenco. These have quickly become some of our most anticipated offerings, ranging from sweet, caramelized washed Bourbons, to exotic, fruity naturals. For 2021 we have four special lots that we will be launching in the coming months, the first of which is now available, and for 2022 we hope to add experimental lots to the mix as well.
We recently caught up with Eddy Nkanagu, Greenco managing director to fill us in on their current projects, as well as Jeanine Nyonzima of JNP Coffee, our newest Burundi partner.
Greenco was founded in 2015 in the northern province of Ngozi, and currently works with 44,000 farming families to bring “hope through coffee” to one of the economically poorest countries on earth. They do this through 13 quality-oriented washing stations in the provinces of Kayanza and Ngozi where coffee is received from farmers organized into small collectives.
Farmers typically play key roles in operating and managing the purchase points and washing stations, creating a well-integrated supply chain, helping the whole community. 40% of the coffee, all of it Bourbon, is brought to the stations via a bicycle courier service, a practical means of transport in a country with rustic infrastructure and dispersed farming communities, while the rest is delivered directly.
Greenco furthermore pays competitive prices for high quality cherry and uses an innovative mobile payment system that speeds up delivery of second payments to farmers often in need of cash to make ends meet. They also offer technical services to the small farmers they partner with to improve both yields and quality, critical on small farms with an average of just 275 trees.
For the first time this year 49th paid a premium to Greenco to benefit the Livestock Distribution program, which supplies goats and pigs to coffee farmers. The program started in 2017 with the Nemba station, and with our support is expanding to the Gahahe station. We hope to be able to increase our involvement in this valuable program in the future.
The results of Greenco’s work have been recognized with multiple top placements in the Cup of Excellence, starting in 2015 with a Nemba micro lot. In the QC lab at 49th, we could not agree more having been very satisfied with the quality and diversity of flavor profiles from this special origin.
This year we are happy to introduce a new Burundi relationship with JNP Coffee, one of just a handful of women owned coffee export/import businesses in the world. Jeanine Nyonzima, a US-based Burundian business executive, founded JNP in 2012 and has since built it into a well-respected boutique export/import enterprise.
JNP has a strong focus on women coffee producers, investing in coffee washing stations owned and run by women, and connecting these supply chains to top roasters around the world. Jeanine's work is truly impressive and important, and she has invested both time and her own resources back into the Burundian coffee sector. Interestingly, when I reached out to her this year she presented us with samples from her newest partnership, Kayanza Incuti washing station, unusual for JNP in that it is not owned by a woman. Jeanine spoke very highly of this new relationship and encouraged us to try it out. She will be investing in the Incuti station in the coming years to help them increase production volumes and quality, as well as explore certifications such as Organic and Rainforest.
The natural lot we chose showed vibrant sparkling acidity, tropical fruit and ripe banana on the cupping table.
The harvest typically begins in April in Kayanza and a few weeks earlier in Ngozi. Heavy rain and resulting slow fruit maturation has caused delays of a few weeks in 2021, a pattern we are also seeing in Colombia where La Niña rain has slowed the harvest significantly in the south. Last year was a bumper harvest in Burundi, meaning that this year is expected to be much smaller. This typically does not impact quality and gives the washing stations more time to focus on processing. With that in mind we are expecting to see some experimental lots from Greenco over the summer, as well as excellent quality overall.
We invite you enjoy our current offerings from Greenco (Nemba, Kibingo and Gahahe), and JNP (Kayanza Incuti Dushime) which we will be offering one at a time over the next few months.