Location: Mubuga washing station, Bugestal, Ngozi region
Altitude: 1,500+ masl Cultivar: Red Bourbon
Harvest: March - July
Flavour profile: Cranberry jam & tea rose
Mubuga washing station is located 1,500+ meters above sea level. Farmers who deliver their cherry to the station farm an average of 250 trees on the surrounding hills. The station is owned and operated by one of our in-country partners, Bugestal.
Most coffee trees in Burundi are Red Bourbon. Because of the increasingly small size of coffee plantings, aging rootstock is a very big issue in Burundi. Many farmers have trees that are over 50 years old, but with small plots to farm, it is difficult to justify taking trees entirely out of product for the 3-4 years it will take new plantings to begin to yield. In order to encourage farmers to renovate their plantings, Bugestal purchases seeds from the Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi (ISABU), establishes nurseries and sells the seedlings to farmers at or below cost. At the washing station, farmers can also get organic fertilizer from reconverted coffee pulp.
Despite the ubiquity of coffee growing in Burundi, each smallholder producers a relatively small harvest. The average smallholder has approximately 250 trees, normally in their backyards. Each tree yields an average of 1.5 kilos of cherry so the average producer sells about 200-300 kilos of cherry annually.
The average cherry buying price for Bugestal in 2019 was significantly above average. Washing stations make the first payment to farmers between 15-30 June. The second payment comes later in the summer. If the coffee wins a competition or sells for extremely high specialty prices, Bugestal gives another payment approximately a year after the harvest season.
During the harvest season, all coffee is selectively hand-picked. Most families only have 200 to 250 trees, and harvesting is done almost entirely by the family. Bugestal knows that even small distances can be time consuming and expensive to travel for smallholder farmers, and they know that receiving cherry immediately after harvest is crucial to quality. Therefore, smallholders can bring their cherries either directly to a washing station or to one of the 10-15 collection sites situated throughout growing areas. Farmers are paid the same for their quality cherry regardless of where they bring their cherries. In this way, farmers are not disadvantaged due to their location, and Bugestal bears the cost of transport to washing stations.
Quality assurance begins as soon as farmers deliver their cherry. All cherry is floated in small buckets as a first step to check its quality. Bugestal still purchases floaters (damaged, underripes, etc) but immediately separates the two qualities and only markets floaters as B-quality cherry. After floating, the higher quality cherry is sorted again by hand to remove any damaged, underripe and overripe cherries.
After sorting, the cherry is then transported directly to the drying tables where they will dry slowly for 3-4 weeks. Cherry is laid out in a single layer. Pickers go over the drying cherry for damaged or defective cherry that may have been missed in previous quality checks. The station is very strict about allowing only the highest quality cherry to complete the drying process. Cherry i covered with tarps during periods of rain, the hottest part of the day and at night.