COCOCA: the success story of Burundian quality coffee

Horomama

‘Horamama’ is a song that women sing on their way to the field. The word means ‘courage’ or ‘power’, but today, Horamama is also a coffee brand of COCOCA, a union of 39 cooperatives from across the country. With the support of several donors and major clients, COCOCA has transformed itself into a solid actor on Burundi’s coffee market in recent years.

Between 2014 and 2017, the Trade for Development Centre (TDC) financed the management support of the Union and some of its cooperatives and helped them improve the quality of their arabica coffee. Some 2,500 farmers were trained in sustainable agricultural practices. In 2014, COCOCA exported 4 Fairtrade coffee containers sourced from three certified cooperatives. In 2017, there were no less than 17 Fairtrade-certified cooperatives and 21 containers were sold at Fairtrade conditions. In that period the volume of coffee sold increased from 350 to 12,000 tonnes, i.e. approximately 15% of Burundi’s coffee production.

Marketing coaching

COCOCA successfully applied for the TDC marketing coaching programme in 2016. A TDC coach visited Burundi in 2017, 2018 and 2019 for four one-week sessions. Since COCOCA has cooperatives throughout the country and the quality of its production has made strong progress in recent years, the organisation can supply large volumes of various kinds of high-quality coffees and premium (or specialty) coffees.

In the second session, this reflection exercise led to a marketing plan aiming to export at least 100 containers following the 2018-2019 harvest, including 60 containers of primarily Fairtrade- and UTZ-certified coffee, specialty coffee or ‘Café des Femmes’ (specifically produced by women members).

Twelve containers

One of the existing clients was Colruyt. Colruyt sources all of its Burundese beans for its blends from COCOCA, which amounts to 230 tonnes of beans or twelve full containers per year. For Colruyt this is a nice example of a ‘value chain project’, which aims to strengthen farmers’ organisations through long-term collaboration to make the producer-to-consumer chain sustainable. Colruyt opted for a fixed price with the farmers in 2017. This way, revenues are guaranteed and beans do not have to be sold below cost price. They are also given a specific premium per tonne of coffee beans, regardless of market price fluctuations. At the end of 2015, a COCOCA delegation visited a coffee roaster in Halle (Belgium) and at the beginning of 2017 farmers from Burundi visited their Colombian peers, which led to the creation of a Colombia-Burundi coffee blend for Spar.

Furthermore, the Collibri Foundation, a business fund of Colruyt, which primarily targets education projects, has been operating in Burundi for many years. Since 2016, working with two COCOCA coffee cooperatives, 100 youngsters from coffee farm communities receive help to find work.

Dry mill

The construction and launch of their own coffee processing plant in 2016 constituted a major step for COCOCA. In the past, the cooperative had to rely on third parties to process and stock the coffee beans. Now, it fully controls the whole value chain from the coffee berries to the green coffee that is ready for export. Both the quality control and the traceability of the coffee will improve. Horamama is also the name given to Burundi’s first production site with its own dry mill. Pre-financing was ensured by the Belgian social impact investment fund Kampani.
2019-20 will be a key season for Cococa and Horamama, which must prove to their international clients that they not only produce quality coffee but can also process and deliver it on time.

The third and fourth marketing coaching sessions of the Trade for Development Centre were therefore focused on improving the customer approach, the traceability (to meet customer demand it is often important to trace the origin of the lots up to the individual producer), the roasting projects and the local sales development business plan.


EGO

Another Belgian trade partner of COCOCA is Efico. This large trader of green unroasted coffee focuses on sustainability and good relations with coffee cooperatives. In 1987, the company was the first to be awarded the Fairtrade label in Belgium. This past decade, their share of sustainable certified coffee (organic, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and UTZ) rose from 13 to 53 %. In 2018, the company purchased 85 % directly from cooperatives or local exporters.

Efico also has a corporate fund, the Efico Foundation, with projects promoting the transfer of know-how, sustainable incomes for coffee farmers and climate change adaptation and mitigation in coffee-producing regions.

One of the projects of the Efico Foundation is EGO. It started in 2018 with COCOCA and was co-financed by the DGD (the Belgian Development Cooperation). Two new ‘action learning centres’ become places where environment-friendly cultivation practices are demonstrated to farmers. That way, more sustainable certifications can be obtained. Each region builds a coffee terroir profile, enabling COCOCA to differentiate coffee sales.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, and particularly SDG 12 on responsible production and consumption, provide key guidance to us,” emphasises Katrien Delaet, Head of Sustainability of Efico. “The projects of our Foundation promote a multi-actor approach within the value chain. Efico’s added value lies in a stable, long-term business relation. It is a tradition of the company: Giving farmers opportunities to improve the quality and to grow, so they can develop their organisation autonomously.”

Hope

COCOCA is definitely not alone. In recent years, the TDC has supported coffee cooperatives In Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and the DR Congo which now export coffee to many Belgian businesses such as Efico, Supremo, Coffee team, 32aCup, RIVS, Briz and Oxfam-Wereldwinkels. “The export of coffee created jobs and generated revenue, and consequently brought hope. The best evidence? Former soldiers and rebels have handed in their weapons in exchange for coffee trees,” says Joachim Mungana, president of SOPACDI, a coffee cooperative in South Kivu.