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A coffee farmer’s view - Burundi during the pandemic

Coffee farmers in Burundi deal with uncertainty every day. Weather conditions, cyclical harvest yields, government regulations, even their family’s health are all variables beyond their control. That’s why when they hear reports of a global pandemic alarming people everywhere, they find it confusing.

The women and men that JNP Coffee partner with are resilient in so many ways. Burundi’s traumatic history has created a generation prepared to withstand most challenges. In mid-April, our quality manager went upcountry to meet with farmers who are already bringing their cherries to the washing stations. After learning more about the impact of the coronavirus, their primary question for her was “Who will buy our coffee?”

If the quality remains high, the answer should be coffee roasters everywhere. We remain committed to our vision, bringing hope to Burundians by teaching them best practices for quality coffee cultivation, bringing their distinctive crop to the specialty coffee market and sharing the success with them. We also continue to offer financial literacy training so they can save today for better tomorrows.

This year’s harvest is expected to be significantly greater than last year. The fundamentals to achieve excellent coffee have not changed. That’s one reason we’ve already been to the wet mills. With more cherries on the trees, we are reminding farmers to focus on quality at every stage of processing.

Coronavirus cases The coronavirus affects everyone – there are no exceptions. At this writing, Burundi has seen 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one death. One case was traced to a traveler from the Middle East with a stopover in Europe.

Those with the virus have been admitted to a designated hospital in Bujumbura, and four have recovered. The challenge in my home country is the lack of testing ability. Only the National Health Clinic, which is in the capital, currently can conduct the tests.

Changing behavior a challenge While social distancing is recommended to reduce the spread of this very contagious virus, this is another concern. It is nearly impossible to social distance in Burundian culture. Major events such as weddings and funerals are still held every weekend. Burundians, including my mother, are still going to church. Gathering together is our way of life. We look forward to these events.

Just as in the United States, Burundi has elections coming up, with voting making social distancing that much more difficult. The coffee harvest season is just beginning, and people stand close to one another in long lines at the wet mills.

Handwashing and information both important

To help limit the contagion, one of our partner organizations, Burundi Friends International (BFI) is working very hard to encourage handwashing. Handwashing stations have been set up at all BFI locations, including the rural countryside for the savings group participants.

BFI has collected information about the coronavirus and preventive measures and distributed it to its leadership team. The information was translated into Kirundi and French, then given to teachers and students in BFI’s English clubs, libraries and technology classrooms, and to participants in the savings program.

More than 50,000 people in BFI’s network have received the information, so they, in turn, can educate their families, schools, churches and communities about the disease. BFI’s Burundian staff and leadership team are doing their part by working remotely. Concerns about the future While uncertainty is a given for coffee farmers, the virus and its economic impact bring even greater unknowns in these stressful times. The poorest Burundians will be affected deeply by this pandemic. We know there will be suffering. But we also know we are here to make a difference. We hold on to the hope that our work can bring a brighter future to thousands of Burundian families.

I appreciate your messages of hope and concern and welcome your interest in current and future micro-lots. Please contact me at


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