Article by: Katie Burnett and Photos by Carley Serwat
From the KwaZulu Natal Midlands to the Mutambu Commune in Burundi (and thanks to a stable internet connection) we sat down with Dan Brose, founder of Migoti Coffee Co. to discuss his views on the future of coffee in Burundi, as well as how he saw the role of his own wash station in this future.
In 1993, Burundi was plunged into a 12 year long civil war that left the country devastated and on a back-footed start to the new century. As of 2005 the war was over, but the country’s resources were completely destroyed – a dirth of leadership, rolling cycles of poverty that trapped millions of Burundians and the abandonment of many agricultural industries, including coffee.
The idea that coffee could be an economic and industrial stimulant in Burundi had become far-fetched as the destruction of the war ripped through the countryside. Dan Brose and Pontien Ntunzwenimana wanted to create hope in their country. They wanted to grow an industry, in order to grow the people within it and give Burundi something it had scarcely seen before: a connection to the rest of the world.
Their vision was direct relationships with partners on an international level, solely focused on uplifting those who were trapped in poverty.
In a country that was constantly under threat of chaos and violence, farming was not an option. Today, as Burundi continues to settle into it’s development, the people have been allowed to reap what their land has been crying out to sow. Their newfound peace has been the key to the re-emergence of agricultural practices in Burundi.
Both Dan and Pontein were born in Burundi and have engineering backgrounds. Dan’s experience in business and humanitarian work, coupled with Pontein’s roots in a coffee-producing community in Burundi made them the perfect pair to embark on this project. Pontien oversees daily operations, leads construction projects and manages government relations while Dan oversees strategy, brand management, marketing and investments. The two have built a world-class wash station in the clouds above Lake Tanganyika, with the ultimate goal of transforming the community in the Mutambu Commune in Bujumbura.
Migoti Coffee Co.’s first full year of production was in 2016 and from year 1 they have produced some of the best crop in Burundi. The success of the first crop showed the farmers the value of what they were doing as well as the importance of their work. Pontein and Dan have guided these farmers to improve their farms for better quantity and quality year after year- as we’ve seen in their ever-improving natural and washed lots. One of the major challenges facing the future of coffee in Burundi is the lack of motivation in the next generation to work in agriculture. As cities grow and urban markets develop, the next generation of coffee farmers need reason to continue agricultural legacies.
Burundi’s lack of connection to the global market has meant that Burundian coffee is not as well-known as it should be. The coffee-growing roots of the country are spotted, but thorough. Dan’s priorities lie in giving the farmers and local processors the opportunity to market and sell their product independently. In order for Migoti Coffee Co. to be truly sustainable and create positive change for longer than Dan’s lifetime, connections need to be established with the community, and not only with a representative of it.
The team is dedicated to creating opportunity for the next generation. Whether that be increased cash to farmers, lessons in savings, lessons in investment or getting more working money into the community.
The face of the specialty coffee industry lies in first world countries: slick, photogenic cafes and roasteries that we all follow on Instagram. This is who is buying green coffee and these are the customers of producers like Migoti Coffee Co, but the industry heartbeat lies in the countries of origin. This makes it vital that the ground-floor producers are able to connect with the world as effectively and independently as possible. Only through empowerment of the local community will this be possible.
From small farms in the area, to Pontien’s world-class wash station, the coffee processing at Migoti Coffee Co. is the perfect marriage of beauty and efficiency. The two love working in coffee and the deep reach into the community that coffee farming allows. They have upliftment in the forefront of their game plan. The wash station brings farmers to Migoti, and the team have projects underway to supply them with low-cost renewable energy through a small hydropower plant as well as investigations into plants that farmers can inter crop with their coffee trees, such as essential oils.
Ultimately, the greatest impact is on the people that the wash station is in direct contact with – the community surrounding the production facility and the farmers that invest, season after season, although the benefit to the whole country cannot be discounted.
Examples of successful coffee producers in the country would undoubtedly begin to change a perception of a crop that dates back to the civil war. A crop that has a thoroughly tortured history, has the power to change the future of Burundi. Migoti Coffee Co. is at the forefront of that movement.