Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

Bujumbura — 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 Déo-Guide Rurema said 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. The state will rewrite laws to reform the sector and increase revenue for the national treasury.”

Coffee generates more than 80% of the country’s foreign-exchange income.

Production has stagnated since 1991 when the sector was liberalised, government spokesperson Prosper Ntahorwamiye said last week.

However, the National Confederation of Coffee Growers of Burundi 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,” Ntirabampa said by phone. “How will this happen?”

Belgian colonisers 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 liberalisation in 1991, according to Ntahorwamiye.

The confederation expects the 2019/2020 harvest to drop by about a third to 12,000 tonnes after an outbreak of disease. Farmers are trying to boost output to 30,000 tonnes by 2023 under a $55m World Bank-funded project.

Bloomberg