Modern coffee production faces a serious problem. In many coffee-growing regions in East Africa – including Burundi – young people are increasingly abandoning agriculture to head to bigger cities.
This problem is often referred to as the “generational gap.” Coffee production is labor-intensive work that requires both physical strength and endurance – and it gets more challenging as farmers age.
Today, the average age of a coffee producer in many regions of East Africa is rising to 60– creating a clear challenge for the future of coffee production.
This is a problem that we need to address in Burundi, too. Let’s take a look at how JNP Coffee works with producers to close the generational gap in Burundi coffee production. Read on to learn more.
Generational gaps in East African coffee production
All across East Africa, coffee industries face a major challenge. Entire coffee-producing families are turning away from coffee production altogether, migrating to urbanized areas to find better, more profitable work.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that the average age of an African farmer is 60. When you consider that 60% of the continent’s population is under the age of 24, the situation seems dire.
In Burundi’s neighbor, Tanzania, people have grown coffee for more than 400 years. Yet issues like plant disease, climate change, and aging coffee trees are causing a decline in production volumes, exacerbating the generational gap. Here, the average age of coffee producers is 55.
But what about Burundi’s coffee industry?
Why are youth turning away from coffee production?
In many coffee-producing countries, young people make up a significant percentage of the labor force. In Burundi, around 35% of the population is between 15 and 34 years old. Add in the fact that approximately 85% of people of working age work in agriculture, and Burundi’s generational gap is wide and growing wider. Founder of JNP Coffee, Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, explains that there are three main reasons why youth in Africa are moving away from agricultural work, particularly in coffee:
Lack of coffee knowledge and education
Limited access to value chains within the coffee industry
Farming isn’t regarded as appealing when compared to the work available in urban areas
She adds that other factors like limited access to land, financing, technical skills and training present further barriers.
As well as young people, women in coffee across East Africa face severe challenges. In 2018, the International Coffee Organization estimated that just 20 to 30% of the world’s coffee farms are operated by women, yet they carry out around 70% of the physical labor involved.
“By addressing the specific needs and challenges faced by youth, particularly women, JNP Coffee plays a vital role in encouraging their active participation and driving positive change in the coffee industry,” Jeanine says.
“Overall, JNP Coffee strives to create opportunities, empower young people, and promote gender equity in the Burundian coffee sector.”
How else is JNP Coffee supporting young people in Burundi?
“While the country’s younger population lacks work opportunities, they are needed in rural areas, where farmers are getting older,” Jeanine explains. “So encouraging youth engagement in coffee provides opportunities for employment and income generation, and helps address youth unemployment and poverty.”
This is one of the central components of our mission at JNP Coffee. We’ve taken steps to become a model for the next generation of coffee companies and growers, pushing for inclusive, sustainable coffee production in Burundi. To achieve this, we focus on buying high-quality coffee from Burundi farmers, including young farmers and women coffee farmers.
But Jeanine explains that our support goes beyond that.
“Institutional support at the local level is critical to close the gap,” Jeanine elaborates. “This includes addressing issues related to land tenure, access to finance, market infrastructure, and youth-focused agricultural extension services.”
To support youth in coffee, JNP Coffee uses a multi-strategy approach:
Provide training for post-harvest processing at wet mills
Provide quality production incentive programs, including our Dushime® premium/second payment system
Purchase coffee from farmers at sustainable prices to keep young people in rural areas engaged with coffee production
Promote Burundi coffee on the global market.
We also run several programs which specifically support women farmers:
Financial literacy education
Work opportunities for women at our lab and processing centers, teaching them post-harvest processing, quality control, leadership, and entrepreneurship skills
Direct trade models developed for women farmers.
Ultimately, although there is still a lot of work to be done to close the generational gap in Burundi’s coffee industry, Jeanine sees a bright future. She says that training, knowledge, and mentorship from older generations will play a critical role, and explains that JNP Coffee will be there to support that transition.
“Closing the generational gap in Burundi will require a more holistic approach that combines education, access to resources, market opportunities, and policy support,” she concludes.