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Burundi’s special appeal

From the December 2016 issue.

Despite being one of Africa’s least stable nations, Burundi’s coffee industry is getting the attention of specialty coffee enthusiasts around the globe.

Coffee farmers in Burundi

It was coffee harvest in May 2015, Ben and Kristy Carlson’s third year of coffee production in Burundi, in east Africa’s Great Lakes region, for their specialty brand Long Miles Coffee.

The United States Embassy in the capital Bujumbura was evacuating American citizens after an attempted military coup following weeks of protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term.

The American couple had been living in the country for four years and had built two coffee washing stations in the central highlands, each costing about US$150,000.

A sustained period of instability followed the attempted coup, into 2016.

More than 250,000 Burundians fled the country, most of whom are still in refugee camps in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo.

The period brought a general lawlessness that made the couple question whether they had made the right choice in investing so heavily in a country with such a fragile social fabric.

“I think the biggest challenge was just as a family,” Ben Carlson tells Global Coffee Report. “If you stay in Burundi, you know, we’re Americans, the US embassy evacuated all Americans but it was in the middle of harvest, so what do you do?”

The couple was also pregnant with their third child. Rather than stay in the capital where the schools were closed and there was shooting and grenade explosions almost every night, they spent the time in small towns outside the city.

The crisis didn’t affect Long Miles’ coffee production, however, and aside from a delay on export, the growth they had seen since beginning in 2013 continued.

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