Whilst under Belgium control in the 1930s Arabica trees were first introduced and coffee production was mandatory for the native population. Coffee production continued after Burundi Independence as many indigenous people saw it as a route to a better life. The young government invested a significant amount (with the help of the World Bank) into the coffee industry after 1962, which grew rapidly until the 1990s, up until the civil war.
During the conflict many people were displaced, leaving the coffee trees and farms unattended. Those that did stay and continued with their coffee production ran into geographical issues trying to export their beans. As Burundi is a landlocked country, residents rely on long roads, often unmaintained, which is a financial burden even during peacetime when there was a decreased risk to the farmers, coffee needs to travel a significant distance, sometimes through multiple country, to use a neighbouring countries port.
The civil war officially ended in 2005 and the first president, since 1993 was democratically sworn in. With the return of peace, the government invested back into the countries land and coffee industry.
Burundi mainly relies on subsistence farming, a living off the land approach, their main exports being coffee, tea, silk, sugar and hides. Today, Burundi’s coffee industry is fueled by 600,000 smallholders. Since the income from most smallholder farms supports entire families, close to 5 million people depend on the profits of smallholder coffee farms. In perspective: the entire population of Burundi is a little under 11 million people. In other words, smallholder coffee producers and their families comprise almost 50% of the total population.