Life at Migoti Hill: Week 5

Life at Migoti Hill: Week 5

Our roaster Ludwika is in Burundi where she is spending six weeks working at Migoti Hill. Here we share weekly updates on what life is like at the washing station. 

This week the coffee began to leave the washing station. A tremendous amount of hard labour was involved to lift 35,000kg parchment onto two massive lorries. First though, there was some paperwork to do…


The week started with a visit to ODECA (Office Pour le Development du Cafe Du Burundi) in Bujumbura. We needed to fill up documents confirming movement of coffee.

The trucks required to deliver the first container worth of coffee from Migoti and Kinama to the Dry Mill have been booked so the rest of this week will be busy getting them loaded up and travelling with them to the dry mill.

Apparently there is a lot of "illegal" selling of coffee so you need to record that you will be traveling with coffee and get documents stamped here and in Mutambu (closest town to Migoti washing station, 10 min on foot) so when trucks get stopped by police (and they will many times) you have documents showing that it is a legal (approved) movement.

ODECA is also responsible for selling the seeds (which are in fact the coffee beans) which are allowed to be planted to grow coffee in Burundi. This is all controlled through ODECA to keep control over the quality and the varietals which are grown. On the way back to the washing station we stopped at the nursery where the small coffee plants are germinated and grown.

Coffee on the move

This morning the first truck came in to take coffee to the dry mill.

This is coffee that will be exported by Omwani, who we buy our coffee from. It looks like it's going to be whole day operation as it involves unbelievable amount of labor. The ladies below are waiting for the arrival of the truck.

Zephyrin is organising which lots to send first.


An important visit

At the same time the washing station had an extremely exciting visit. Dan and Pontien were hosting people from DTC (who are local implementing partners of USADF). DTC is local organisation working on supporting development in Burundi.

They were signing documents for a grant that they applied for a year ago. This grant will fund a host of exciting new developments for Migoti Coffee Co.

The primary one is  the building of Kinama Washing Station and a Kinama Warehouse as well as 53 more drying tables, a water system and pulping machines.

The funding will also be used for training: for coffee growers on best agriculture practices; for hill representatives on land management; for washing station workers on bookkeeping and financial management.

It will also provide funds for local small organised groups needing support that don't have to be coffee related, for example people with Aids or in other challenging conditions.

It is a 4 year project and will require lots of learning and paper work as USADC has its protocols and requirements. They will have to work closely and report any progress to them, but it is clear how much this means to Dan. His dream and main focus isn't to grow the business bigger but to develop and transform this specific area. 

Ludwika says, ‘That’s what [Dan] said other day when asked by the microfinance guys when his company will start working in different African Origins. I find his goal and focus extremely inspiring so every time (which is almost every second day) he and Pontien make another huge step towards that goal is very emotional.’

She continues, ‘I was honoured to be invited to the meeting, share my experiences within the coffee industry and brew Steampunk Aguacatones for them. I got invited to visit other stations and cooperatives they work with as their goal is to bring all parts of the coffee chain closer together.


Loading the trucks

While this crucial meeting was taking place, the sacks of parchment were being loaded into the lorry. Over two days a team of incredible (mainly women) carried 600 sacks of parchment down the stairs from the coffee storage at the washing station to the waiting lorry.

Each sack weighs 50kgs.

The sacks are carefully stacked onto the lorry.

Between 2 big trucks and one small one coming from Kinama it was a total of around 35000kg parchment. This is expected to yield around 420 sacks of green coffee. 10 kg parchment yields roughly from 7 to 8 kg greens.

The second lorry did not arrive on that first day so after waiting for a few hours, the women went home. They returned again the next morning to load up the second lorry when it finally arrived.


Good byes at the washing station

At the end of the second day, Ludwika said her goodbyes to the ladies at the washing station. She will travel with Eduardo and Zephyrin to the dry mill for a week of milling, sample roasting and cupping before returning to Scotland. She has become close to many of the the women and it was a tearful goodbye.

She was lifted up on their shoulders and says, ‘I was begging them not to lift another thing but that's the way they "celebrate someone loved" (Zephrin's words) so there was no way out of it. I did insist on my way after so got more hugs and kisses that you can imagine I would be able to take. They did ask if I could come back next year.’

On the move

The truck was sent to the Dry Mill with Eduardo and Zephrin and Ludwika traveled back to Bujumbura. The next morning they took a bus to Horamama Dry Mill where they took part in "receiving the coffee" by the Mill. The truck went late so they weren't able to unload it when it arrived, having left Migoti at 4pm it arrived at the dry mill at 5am.


Ludwika describes the cupping process in the lab

We were invited to cup coffees from another washing station called Mukanze Coffee. It was an excellent experience as the owner Ephrem Sebatiga is a qualified Q grader. I was bit stressed to cup with Q graders but proud we were very calibrated. I think we both enjoyed how much we agreed with each other and had similar comments.

(He was kind enough to make everyone discuss the cupping in English)

The gentleman in the red shirt is from a small cooperative (of 11 farmers) that built their own small washing station and is learning from Ephrem how to improve their quality (he is a consultant for processing coffee). This year Ephrem started anaerobics and was very pleased that we cupped them together as he said he is good with theory of them but hasn't actually tried many before.

The History of Horomama Mill

Before 1996 the coffee industry in Burundi was fully controlled by the government. Ephrem explained that he was working as an engineer in France and returned to Burundi in 1984 to help with the building of the first Dry Mills.

1996 saw the first movement to create cooperatives, people had to be convinced to look past differences in tribes they came from and see what they had in common - coffee and the goal of growing the industry. He says it wasn't very hard to convince people of the common goals and i1997 the first growers association was created.

There was a concept of privatising washing stations first but farmers were strongly against (fear of change) so the first attempt in 2006 failed. However the coffee sector run by government was creating a bigger and bigger deficit so in 2008 the National Bank put an ultimatum and refused to lend more money unless they privatised.

In 2009 the first 13 stations were being sold. As potential buyers were being forced to buy at least 3 washing stations at once, it wasn't an option for small scale local growers. They were bought by WEBCOR (a Belgian company). They started building brand new ones in 2011.

In 2012 they realised that they will need whole other structure (company) to sell the coffee and that's how COCOCA was born. Ephrem was asked to consult and later mange it (he agreed despite having his own washing station and plantation, he says it was a tough time as he had to abandon his own business and focus on the project for 2 years).

In 2014 when COCOCA decided to build a new Dry Mill he convinced them to buy the one we are in that was on sale from WEBCOR who were removing their business from Burundi. He says he was involved in creating and building that mill so knew it was good and could be improved to be made even better. The decision was made, so in 2016 the Horamama Dry Mill started operations.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog all about the milling process…

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