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Report from East Africa: Big harvest, much rain

The only way to really understand how the coffee industry can change is to see it firsthand. That’s why I spent just over three weeks in East Africa in May and early June. Between late night coffee processing and early morning departures to reach remote wet mills, I learned how change is already underway in many places.


I know that for JNP Coffee and our customers, quality matters above all else. With that in mind, I asked consultant Marcelo Pereira to join me on this journey. While his primary goal was to establish a baseline to measure against in future years, he advised us on a few ways we could implement changes immediately in the fermentation process and on the drying beds. The farmers we met with had plenty of questions for him about their approach to production and they took his advice to heart.




Harvest ends when the rains end, and that hadn’t happened yet in late May. We contended with heavy downpours, which turned some of Burundi’s dirt roads into mud. It took close to a dozen people and a lot of team effort to move our car up one particularly slippery hill. We were determined to reach the next washing station on our itinerary, but it was slow going.



All that rain is leading to a larger harvest this year. Expect to see far more coffee from the women-owned cooperative Turihamwe and the 2,000-strong members who produce our popular Bavyeyi.


Inventive responses to challenges

When things don’t always work out as planned, you just have to be creative. That’s what happened in Muyinga where our Hafi coffee is grown. This new processing center does not yet have a pulping machine, so all the coffee produced there uses the natural process. Distinctive and delicious, Hafi will be available as a fully washed option once the budget allows for the new equipment!


While there, I met with the farmers and was able to help distribute their first payment for those cherries already delivered for the 2022 harvest, ahead of many others in the country. Not surprisingly, they were excited to receive these funds!


Good ideas can be contagious. I learned that a couple of other coffee buyers have adopted our system, so more farmers in Burundi are receiving second payments. In addition, the Burundi government required that farmers receive a supplement of 50 to 100 Burundi Francs per kilo on last year’s harvest intended for export. When farmers have more funds, communities benefit, which is positive news for my home country’s economic development.


Another reason you will see more natural coffee available this season among the JNP Coffee portfolio is fuel shortages. Experienced in every province across the country, lack of fuel meant pulping machines couldn’t operate. The smart wet processors turned to natural processing rather than have their freshly harvested cherries rot while waiting for fuel. Once fuel becomes available, processing at the wet mill goes on day and night during the harvest season. Farmers bring their cherries for pulping and soaking overnight, while mucilage removal, sorting and drying the cherries on raised African beds occur in the daylight hours.


Looking ahead to next year, there will be more experimental processed coffees on offer after we conclude our experiments conducted during this year’s harvest.


The challenges facing many farmer families in Burundi have not changed during the pandemic. Clean water, better education and opportunities remain important goals. So JNP Coffee continues to seek out new alliances with other organizations to have greater impact and add value to our work there.


Congo’s distinctive coffees

Our team spent several days in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and learned several things about this resource-rich country:

· It has little infrastructure.

· Coffee farming actually enjoys two primary harvests each year.

· There is great potential for specialty coffee there.


We spent time on Idjwi Island, also known as Peace Island, as this region has never seen war. The lack of roads, however, made navigating this area a real challenge. The vehicle we used managed to bump over tree roots and rocks, and our driver steered us through several slippery areas. But it was very hard going, taking hours to travel between wet mills.


Once we reached each area, however, the views overlooking Lake Kivu were spectacular. We also were delighted by what we found there. Delicious coffees, and distinctive in their tasting notes.

The advantage of having two harvests each year is that while farmers may produce very small volumes, processed at micro-mills, it all adds up through the months. We should have coffee to share with JNP Coffee customers next year.


Homecoming

During my last week in East Africa, it was finally time for me to see family members I hadn’t been able to visit with since the pandemic began. We gathered in Bujumbura to catch up on all the news. Thankfully, everyone was in good health as well as good spirits.


A common complaint, however, was rising prices, experienced in Burundi as well as everywhere else in the world. Production costs are rising. Transportation costs are rising. Every aspect of coffee production is seeing increased costs.


As always, we appreciate including you as members of the JNP Coffee family. We are here to make a difference, and our support for the farmers continues to have a significant impact on their communities. We are grateful for your commitments!


We are taking orders for this new harvest. I welcome your emails and calls to secure your coffees for the coming year at info@jnpcoffee.com.