Coffee from Burundi, studies for the development of the “Specialty Coffee” supply chain


The DiSTAS of the Catholic University of Piacenza has undertaken a series of studies aimed at finding useful solutions for the development of the Specialty Coffee supply chain in Burundi, starting from the assumption that, in order to obtain a marketable raw material, the process must be divided into three different phases: Production, (primary and secondary) process, and export.

by Nitunga parfait, DiSTAS, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Piacenza

Next to be the second most exported raw material after oil, coffee is a global commodity, since its  production and consumption are not limited to a single state or continent; in fact they facilitate interconnection between different countries worldwide from an economic, social and cultural point of view (1).

In addition to positive aspects, globalisation also has several negative economic (e.g. price reduction due to competition) and environmental (e.g. climate change)  effects, which could adversely affect the supply of quality coffee and have a negative impact on one of the main sources of livelihood for about 120 million small producers in the world, 25 million of which living in Africa (2).

Table 1 – Analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the coffee production chain in Burundi

Low prices and the lack of appropriate support to counteract the increasing presence of pests and diseases – with the result of low yields and lower quality – are likely to jeopardize the income of small producers and lead to the abandonment of coffee production in favour of more profitable crops (3). In the meantime, rural poverty, food crisis, life below the poverty threshold, inadequate agricultural and processing practices undermine the development of many developing countries that derive their livelihoods mainly from coffee.

Due to global climate change projections and problems related with the deforestation, some studies hypothesized the extinction of at least 60% of the Arabica coffee species within 2080 (4, 5). Hence, there is a need for specific actions to address the issues of economic viability and climate change, in order to ensure future supplies and enable small producers to live decently.

The coffee sector in Burundi

For Burundi, coffee is strategic to its economy, accounting for its main export revenues (one third of its total export), contributing together with tea, to 90% of foreign exchange earnings, corresponding to 6% of the country’s GDP. All activities related to the coffee production chain (collection, processing, transport, storage and marketing) contribute to the generation of employment and income (6).

Table 2 – Classification of Fully Washed coffee (FW)

In the world production system, Burundi ranks 13th, and its production (exclusively Arabica), covers 0.3% of the world’s exports (6).  Coffee from Burundi is among the highest quality coffees in the world, and this is demonstrated by the market and by awards obtained in exhibitions and continental and international contests, as for instance AFCA (African Fine Coffees Association 2014) and the Cup of Excellence. Since 2012 Burundi is member of the latter, and together with Rwanda it is one of the two African origins that participate to this competition. (8).

Fig. 1 – Structure of the Burundi coffee value chain

Moreover, thanks to its particular micro-climate and the excellent quality of its coffee, characterized by  unique aromatic profiles, Burundi can aspire to compete on the market for specialty coffee. For this reason at the DiSTAS (Department of Food Science and Technology for a sustainable agro-food chain) of the Catholic University, studies and investigations were undertaken aimed at finding useful solutions for the development of the specialty coffee supply chain in Burundi, starting from the assumption that, in order to obtain a marketable raw material, the process must be divided into three different phases: production, (primary and secondary) process, and export, according to the scheme of Fig. 1.

Improvement of the specialty coffee supply chain

The analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of the Burundian value chain was the starting point for promoting an adequate improvement strategy. The results are summarized in Table  1.

In the light of this analysis, research focused on the need to standardise the supply chain through the diversification of the product, in order to enter the market of specialty coffee, which takes care of the product throughout the entire supply chain, ensuring a  substantial remuneration for all chain actors.

The conditions necessary to align Burundi’s green coffee to SCA standards are established by ARFIC (Autorité de Régulation de la Filière Café au Burundi), Burundi’s institution responsible for the quality control and the transmission of information to the operators of the sector. Washed green coffee is classified by testing 300 g of coffee according to the limits specified in Tab. 2, where the values correspond to the minimum percentage of beans remaining in each screen that do not show defects. Fully washed coffee represents 83% of Burundi’s coffee exports.

Table 3 – Chemical properties of green Burundi coffee

The percentage of washed coffee has grown considerably since 2013 thanks to the strategies implemented by the local government, which prohibit the sale of unwashed coffee during the harvesting season (6). To be classified as a specialty coffee, green coffee must comply with SCA standards (Specialty Coffee Association); these standards are a quantifiable and qualifiable measure, based upon scientific testing, which set values and/or ranges of values for coffee.  Currently, the SCA has standards for water, green coffee, and cupping coffee (9).

In particular, in order to be classified as a specialty coffee, green coffee must have a given light level, a moisture content ranging between 9-13%; no primary defects (e.g. full black beans, stones, sticks)  and no more than five secondary defects (e.g. chipped beans, insect damage) are allowed. Coffee is then roasted and cupped to evaluate cup characteristics (10). A chemical-physical characterization was performed at the DiSTAS, to evaluate the presence of some molecules in quality coffee, which have an important role in the formation of taste.

Table 4- Physical properties of green Burundi coffee

The general chemical composition of green coffee depends primarily on genetic (e.g. species) and physiological (e.g. degree of maturity) aspects. This study, analysed the important physical aspects  (density and moisture content) and the chemical compounds (caffeine, chlorogenic acids, lipids, proteins and polysaccharides), which have a greater influence on cupped coffee, on 3 samples of FW [YY] coffee coming from different geographical areas in Burundi: Gitega (sample A), Kayanza (sample B) and Ngozi (sample C), of the 2018 harvest. The results were compared with the range present in the literature (11,12), which are summed up in:

  • Density, an important parameter for coffee that can be influenced by many factors such as altitude,  cultivar,  Coffees with a high density (1-1.50 g/ml) are highly appreciated, because they weigh more and occupy less space. Low-density coffee beans quickly lose their weight during roasting, and therefore are not appreciated by roasting companies.
  • Generally, the moisture content of green coffee beans ranges between 8.5 and 12 %; high moisture values are undesirable as they negatively affect the flavour/aroma, as well as for safety reasons, since the presence of water increases the likelihood of microbial growth. On the other hand, a very low moisture content can cause the cracking of beans.
  • Caffeine is present in a range between 0.8-2.5%. In cupped coffee it is responsible for 10% of the perceived bitterness.
  • Chlorogenic acids are generally present between 2-7%; they have a very important role, because they are responsible for bitterness, acidity and astringency in coffee. They are also responsible for the pigmentation of coffee, and for this reason a quantity higher than the one defined by the previous range could produce an undesirable taste.
  • Lipids, next to their important role in the formation of foam, must remain intact in green coffee to prevent oxidation or hydrolysis during storage. The total content of lipids in green coffee ranges between 8 and 14 %.
  • Proteins bind with the chlorogenic acids forming compounds that give body to coffee. Their presence contributes to the formation of a good product texture. In green coffee they are present in a range of 7-17%.
  • Polysaccharides are the molecules most present in coffee, and play an important role for the organoleptic properties of the beverage, its body and in the release of aromatic substances during Maillard’s reaction and in the stability of espresso foam. They are present in green coffee in the range from 30-50%.

In the case of green Burundi coffee, analysed at DiSTAS laboratory, the results shown in Tab. 3 and 4 were obtained. The tests carried out on Burundi coffee samples indicate compliance to the standards, and, in particular, a high density.

In order to pursue and ensure standard results, adequate structures should be available for the quality control of the raw material in an area near the coffee growers who select, diversify and evaluate the intrinsic and extrinsic quality of the product, allowing small producers to approach the much more profitable market of specialty coffee. In fact, the sustainability of the coffee production chain will only be achieved through a redistribution of wealth, especially for those operators in the supply chain who invest many of their resources and time in it.

Small farmers must be primarily assisted in the acquirement of agronomic know-how and in finding adequate inputs in order to increase their yields and the quality of their products. In particular, attention must be directed toward young people, who are more likely to learn innovative  agricultural and processing techniques, urging legislators to produce policies aimed at reversing the current trend of the loss of an entire generation of future producers.


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