By Violet Ikong 

Kaderi with some of his clients

Richard Kaderi is the third generation in his family to grow and produce coffee in Burundi. His grandfather first introduced coffee to the Mwakiro-Buhinyuja region of Muyinga province in  1932. Over time, the business has developed, and now Kaderi grows and processes single Arabica coffee beans that he exports to South Africa and the U.S.  

But Kaderi faces obstacles his grandfather could not have imagined – environmental challenges to the family coffee producing business brought on by climate change, deforestation, and overuse of the land. Kaderi is a fighter, though. He himself has adapted his growing and  processing methods, and he is assisting other local farmers to do so as well. 

Worldwide, about 25 million farmers grow coffee. In 2020/2021, global coffee production reached 175.35 million 60-kilogram bags. Africa accounts for about 12% of the global coffee supply and less than 11% of global exports. In 2020, coffee exports from the continent were valued at nearly two billion U.S. dollars, with Ethiopia being the main exporter, earning about $796 million and Burundi, in seventh place, earning about $42 million. 

Kaderi’s coffee farm is located next to the Ruvubu River, which rises near Kayanza, a city in northern Burundi’s Kayanza Province, known for having the best soil in the country for growing coffee. After the coffee is harvested from Kaderi’s land, the coffee beans are washed in the Ruvubu River. Then they are taken to Kavugangoma, which is the name of the processing station he established in Mwakiro in 2008. Every year, the processing station serves coffee farmers from 18 hills. Kaderi also developed a processing factory (a washing station) for coffee farmers in Kayanza. 

He developed his processing stations with an eye to safeguarding the environment and the people who live nearby. One such measure is a wastewater treatment system, where wastewater is filtered and recycled. Around 500 coffee producers bring their beans to Kaderi’s stations every year to be washed and processed. Most farmers in the country grow single Arabica coffee. 

But coffee growing is in jeopardy. Experts say that 60% of all coffee species are at a high risk of extinction due to climate change, deforestation, and the over usage of farmland. And the damage has already begun.

Kaderi and other farmers selecting coffee cherries

But coffee growing is in jeopardy. Experts say that 60% of all coffee species are at a high risk of extinction due to climate change, deforestation, and the over usage of farmland. And the damage has already begun. 

“There are not many trees anymore in the country. Every year, people cut down forest trees indiscriminately and this is affecting us already. It is contributing to climate change,” Kaderi said.  

Tree cutting has also eliminated shade for coffee plants to grow. Most coffee species need a canopy of shade trees rather than direct sunlight. Between 1990 and 2010, Burundi lost 40.5% of its forest cover. The country had 553 Kha of tree cover extending over 21% of its land cover in 2010; in 2020, it lost 1.86 Kha of tree cover. A related concern is soil erosion, which strips the land of nutrients and occurs with heavy rains in deforested areas. 

“The season and environmental issues determine the amount of coffee I can produce in a year,” Kaderi said. “Sometimes I produce up to 3,000 bags a year, and other times only 2,000 bags. We could produce more if we had fewer of these issues.”. 

He works hard to adapt to changing times, and has organized local coffee farmers into the Association for the Promotion of the Model Coffee Producers and the Environment (APROCAME).  

Some coffee farmers at Kaderi’s processing station

APROCAME farmers learn how to make organic fertilizers from urine and compost. They learn to practice mulching by covering the soil with cut grass after planting their coffee beans, which helps decrease the effect of soil erosion and aids in providing nutrients to the soil. And they learn how to intermix coffee plants with banana trees to provide shade for coffee plants;when spread out, the banana leaves offer shelter for the coffee plants while allowing sufficient sunshine to reach them. 

And Kaderi promotes organic coffee. He donates his high-quality compost to farmers to help them produce organic fertilizers, and farmers in the region use the pulp waste from his processing station as organic fertilizer. 

“We grow organic coffee because it has more health benefits. As a result of this, we use only organic fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are not good for our coffee,” Kaderi said. 

According to experts, organic coffee is healthier than non-organic coffee due to the lack of chemicals in the beans. In 2018, the organic coffee market was valued at $6.8 billion and is projected to reach $12.6 billion by 2026. 

Even though Kaderi would love to do more to help the Burundi coffee industry adapt to change, there is no available funding. “We need money to be able to plant trees, carry out awareness campaigns, and produce organic fertilizers in large quantities for farmers,” he said. 

And he has had to reduce his exports over the years, because he can’t produce as much coffee. “I used to supply coffee to several [other] countries, including Japan. But because there was no funding to support my business, I now export only to South Africa and the U.S.” 

Breaking into the global coffee market has proven to be a challenge over the years, said Gregory De-Sani, who is in charge of distribing Kaderi’s product in South Africa. “Getting clients to allow us to present our coffee to them has been a challenge, but one that we are overcoming. The coffee industry is dominated by whites, and our coffee is produced by a Black man trying to penetrate the coffee market,” he said. 

But despite all the obstacles, Kaderi perseveres. And he believes that with the right investment, and adaptive strategies, the future holds promise for the coffee industry in Burundi.