Coffee farming plays a vital role in the Burundian economy. It is the main industry and export product of the country and provides important income for the roughly 600,000 families (about 40% of the population) who grow it.
Reforms of the coffee sector, which were initiated in 1990 but never fully implemented, have continued with greater deregulation – bringing in private operators at some levels of the sector, notably at those of export, curing and most recently (and still to a limited degree) roasting.
With the return to Burundi of major donors, notably the World Bank and the IMF, the pace of reforms could accelerate. The Burundian government has already taken some steps in that direction, including passing a law on deregulation and deciding to sell certain assets of the Coffee Board (OCIBU1) as well as certain coffee washing stations.
But this deregulation and privatization process takes places in a specific political and economic context: on the one hand there is a new democratically elected government and generalized poverty which has been aggravated by 10 years of civil war. On the other hand there is a turmoil of diverging interests which will only intensify as reforms proceed. The movement of coffee growers, which is organized into associations, claims ownership over coffee production and thus seeks control over a good part of the state’s shares in the sector, as well as active participation in all decisions concerning the sector.
Faced with this issue, International Alert wishes to contribute to the debate and to propose solutions that will allow the reforms to proceed in a way that serves the common interest of all the players involved. The ultimate aim of the report is to contribute to the prevention of conflicts that could arise in connection with the reforms.
The consultants carrying out this study consulted documents, interviewed individuals at departments and institutions in the sector and carried out field visits to the provinces of Gitega, Ngozi and Bujumbura Rural to interview coffee growers at the washing stations, including members and non-members of the coffee grower associations.
The report is structured around the following chapters:
- The first chapter provides a synthesis of the socio-economic and political context of the Burundian coffee sector.
- The second chapter outlines the reforms carried out to date, particularly those that concern the companies managing washing stations2 (SOGESTALs) and the Curing and Packaging Society3 (SODECO). These reforms maintain the state’s ownership over production infrastructure (washing and de-pulping stations) and thus state predominance in the capital and control of the sector, via the Coffee Board (OCIBU). Unfortunately, coffee growers were not given a visible place or role in the sector following the reforms.
- The third chapter outlines the debate around privatization of the coffee sector. This chapter describes the divergent interests of the different actors (government, companies, private operators and donors). For the first time coffee growers, via their associations, have raised their voices and claimed their right to take an active part in these reforms and to participate on equal terms in the coffee sector
- The fourth chapter analyzes the possible reform scenarios. The analysis focuses in particular on the important future role of the coffee grower organizations. These recently established organizations can provide a new momentum for coffee production and for the entire sector.