It’s not an easy life farming coffee in Africa, and Burundi especially faces a number of unique challenges. Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries, and it’s rife with political instability after a failed military coup just four years ago in 2015.
Kibingo processes coffee from a staggering 3,553 farmers, who cultivate a total of just over a million coffee trees. Some quick math puts the average number of trees per farmer at: 284 trees, small farmers indeed. Kibingo’s coffee is 95% traceable to individual farmers using Metajua. Metajua is a data collection system that works with basic farmer (Nokia) cell phones. This very useful data ostensibly gives Kibingo’s owner, Greenco, a fully traceable supply chain to the farm-level. It’s not clear to me how they use this data, but gathering it is certainly a powerful step to understanding the quality produced by so many different individual farmers.
I had an amazing trip to Burundi last June. I spent time at the Kibingo mill, the Greenco lab, and the Budeca dry mill. It was impressive to see the quality systems that Greenco has established at Kibingo, and it truly shows in the cup. I’m excited to further pursue quality initiatives with this forward thinking company.
Greenco works with a sister non-profit company called the Kahawatu Foundation to carry out sustainability initiatives in Burundi. In their own words: Kahawatu aims to support East African coffee producing communities to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability. Good stuff, in my books. Some tangible activities they undertake are: Agricultural best practices trainings, Health Insurance for farmers, Livestock solidarity chains, Women’s economic empowerment, financial literacy, gender workshops, youth engagement.
A major concern of mine with Burundian coffees is the dreaded potato taste defect (PTD). For those unfamiliar, a single tainted bean can cause a whole pot of coffee to taste like raw potato or rotten green pepper. You can even smell it in the roasted beans without grinding. It’s for this reason that I’m very careful when I buy Burundian coffees. I taste many, many cups prior to buying, and more importantly, I need to know about the processes that the full chain of custody tastes to avoid the defect.
Kibingo is very strong on this front. Starting at the farm level, they train farmers to control Antestia pests (thought to open the pathway to the bacterial infection which causes the flavor taint), then their wet mill employs cherry flotation, to remove cherries that might have been infected. But the heavy lifting takes place at the Budeca Dry Mill, owned by exporter Sucafina. They have sunk a lot of research into finding a solution to the problem, and have introduced UV light sorting. The UV light allows them to remove individual beans with (Antestia) insect bites prior to exporting the green coffee. This step in the milling process is quite rare, and it’s heartening to see a commitment to dealing with the PTD.
This green coffee was frozen, as always, to preserve freshness