On a high plateau along the western rim of the East Africa Rift Valley, Burundi is situated between Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Burundi is a landlocked nation rich in montane mineral resources, but it is primarily a rural society and its population is sustained by subsistence agriculture. The average elevation in Burundi is 1700 meters above sea level and perfect conditions for cultivating high-quality coffees exist throughout its entire geographical area. As with Rwanda, these conditions were exploited by German and Belgian colonists in the early twentieth century, who built their empires in part on coffee agriculture forced into large areas of both countries.
The German East Africa Company was created in the 19th century to keep Germany competitive as an industrial world power, setting the framework for what would become German East Africa when local border disputes and ongoing violence forced the German government to take over direct control of those territories and eventually to dissolve the company. This turned Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania into German colonial territories and coffee was planted throughout those areas in support of Germany’s imperial growth. Germany was forced to cede control of Burundi to Belgium during WWI and Burundi gained independence from Belgium in the early 1960’s.
Many of the coffee farmers of the newly independent nation abandoned their coffee trees, but some recognized the potential value that coffee agriculture could contribute to the future of an independent Burundi. In addition to high elevation and appropriate climate conditions, all of the coffee trees planted by the German East Africa Company were the Arabica species, and nearly all Bourbon, a high-quality Arabica variety.
Society in Burundi was irrevocably damaged by imperial meddling, and historic ethnic tensions have persisted, creating conditions that have resulted in decades of civil wars, famine, genocide, and localized armed or political violence that continues today. In spite of ongoing strife, Burundi has continued to produce some of the finest coffees in the world, but until being privatized in 2009, its coffee supply chain was controlled by the government.