Long Miles Coffee Project: Deep Dive
Compared to most well-known coffee-growing countries, Burundi’s history with coffee is much shorter and more volatile. Despite being close to Ethiopia (relatively speaking), coffee trees are not a native plant to the region and were only introduced in the 1930s by Belgian colonies. This was met with a slow burn.
Due to political instability in the region for decades due to colonialism, war and the struggles of neighbouring countries, production struggled greatly and was almost nonexistent for most of the latter half of the 20th century. These circumstances have resulted in Burundi being consistently ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world and the most in need of financial aid and relief.
In recent years, Burundi has taken many cues from neighbouring Rwanda after witnessing the country’s rebuild through an increased focus on growing and selling higher-quality coffee through the 2000s. With the government’s focus on exporting goods and working to improve internal infrastructure, Burundi is becoming a more reputable country for high-quality coffee as its economy begins to pick up and continues lifting people out of poverty.
Burundi privatized their coffee sector in 2009 with a grant from The World Bank. Following this, international coffee companies and private Burundian companies bought up washing stations.
In 2013, Ben and Kristy Carlson, founders of what later became the Long Miles Coffee Project, moved to Burundi.
“We saw the opportunity, saw the beautiful coffee, the wonderful potential and decided we would build our own washing station,” Ben Carlson explained.
Alexandre Séguin, the owner of Cafe Pista, explained to us that Munyinya comes from one of the first hills the Carlsons worked with in Burundi.
“They saw lots of potential with the coffee there. This hill became one of the first ones they worked with,” Séguin said. “They implemented this practice of having coffee scouts as resources to help producers. They helped them with farming practices and processing methods like implementing the flotation method for sorting. These practices weren't necessarily used before and it has helped them improve their yields and quality of coffee– it’s wonderful, it’s a beautiful coffee.”
Long Miles Coffee Project now owns three washing stations and works with farmers on 11 different hills, they have begun moving this project into Uganda as well. Despite the investment in Burundi's coffee industry, Carlson explained to us that it is now environmental factors that have hindered their coffee production.
“One of the things that makes it hard on Burundian farmers is each year, Burundi loses almost 38 million tons of soil and 4% of its GDP to land degradation. So, smallholders rely on these central washing stations to produce their coffee. Because of land degradation, 2019 to 2022 were the worst three years in Burundi coffee production. They only saw between 20% to 50% of their coffee harvest realized. Though this means less coffee is coming out of Burundi, it's still producing some of the tastiest coffee.”