Consumables:  Coffee

Coffee is grown all over the world in Asia, South America and Africa. Ethiopia and Uganda are the main producers in Africa. The coffee market fluctuates according to weather, disease and other factors which affect the prices different producers can get for the coffee. Therefore farmers never know what the demand for their coffee will be and many struggle to make a living for them and their families. This also has a wider impact on communities and countries where coffee is the main export.

Coffee is grown in other African countries including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania.


Coffee crops grow well in Rwanda due to its soil, elevation and climate. Coffee was first introduced there by German missionaries in 1904. There are approximately 450,000 farms smaller than one hectare, totalling about 28,000 hectares of coffee production. Political unrest, war and genocide have affected the coffee market. By 2000 there was no coffee processing infrastructure but since then the coffee industry has been rebuilt through a dedicated focus through the National Coffee Strategy and international aid through PEARL (Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages ) and later SPREAD (Sustaining Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development).

In the past Rwandan coffee had a long journey to market-through Uganda and Kenya then shipped to Europe. This could lead to degradation of the coffee and also made it vulnerable due to political situations. Gradually more rural farmers are able to process their coffee and get it to market which is encouraging.


Coffee was introduced to Burundi by Belgium colonialists in the 1960s. Coffee is very important to agrarian-based economy. According to the OHCHR, coffee accounts for 80% of the country’s export earnings and the livelihoods of 55% of the population, or 750 000 families, many of whom are small-scale farmers. Burundi had to rebuild after the 10 year civil war that ended in 2005 but still around two thirds of Burundians live below the poverty line and up to 60% are chronically malnourished.

This poverty can be partly attributed to the privatisation of the coffee market means that Burundian citiziens are missing out on revenue from the coffee supply chain. Only 5% of coffee that is grown in Burundi is processed in the country. The privatisation has been led by the World Bank in April 2013 the UN expressed concern and urged that the policy be suspended pending a full human rights investigation.

The Carlson family of the Long Miles Coffee Project have shared on their blog how the recent coup ‘d’état has affected them.  Although they have presently left Burundi their team continues to produce coffee. They pay the farmers fairly and establish relationship with individuals. The profiles of individual farmers and other articles are featured on their blog.

For the future of African countries it is extremely important that the industry generates more income for farmers. The UN has stated that in Burundi coffee revenue “represents the difference between food security and hunger for much of the population.” In order to generate more revenue African countries need to access European and American consumers. Mauricio Galindo, head of operations at the International Coffee Organisation stated that in order to compete with products from Central and South America they need to improve the harvesting and production processes. The increase in cooperatives will enable farmers to control the production process and reach customers.

Read more – Blogs and guest writers’ contributions related to coffee.