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Burundi to nationalize coffee industry to boost farmers’ income

  • Industry liberalized in 1991 after 15 years of state control
  • Coffee generates more than 80% of nation’s foreign exchange

Burundi plans to take over the coffee industry, blaming a drop in production on the alleged exploitation of farmers by the private sector in the past two decades.

“Since 1991, the government has not played any role,” Environment, Agriculture and Livestock Minister Deo Guide Rurema told reporters in the commercial capital, Bujumbura. “There are companies and private operators who are here just to do business and do not take farmers’ interests into account.”

Production has stagnated since 1991 when the sector was liberalized, government spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye said last week. The state will rewrite laws to reform the sector and increase revenue for the National Treasury, Rurema said. Coffee generates more than 80% of the country’s foreign-exchange income.

However, the National Confederation of Coffee Growers Associations was not consulted about the proposed changes, according to its president, Joseph Ntirabampa.

“For many years, farmer platforms have invested in production and now the government wants to control our plants,” he said by phone. “How will this happen?”

Belgian colonizers introduced coffee in Burundi in 1922 and the industry remained in private hands until 1976, according to the government. Production flourished between 1976 and 1991 when the sector was under government control, but started to drop after liberalization in 1991, according to Ntahorwamiye.

The farmers’ association expects the 2019-20 harvest to drop by about a third to 12,000 tons after an outbreak of disease. Farmers are trying to boost output to 30,000 tons by 2023 under a $55 million World Bank-funded project.