Burundi Coffee-Farm Group Says Suspected Arson Threatens Output

Fires started by suspected arsonists have destroyed coffee farms and nurseries in northern Burundi, threatening the country’s main export crop, said Joseph Ntirabampa, head of the National Producers Federation.

Blazes devastated coffee fields in Ngozi, Kayanza, Muyinga and Karusi provinces, Ntirabampa said in an interview today in the capital, Bujumbura. “This will destabilize the coffee sector if efforts to limit that are not taken by the administration,” he said. The association has 130,600 members.

Authorities are investigating the suspected cases of sabotage and reports that coffee crops have been smuggled from those affected areas across the border to Rwanda, Ntirabampa said. An assessment will determine the extent of the damage. Calls to the mobile phone of Burundi’s police spokesman, Hermes Harimenshi, didn’t connect.

The $2.7-billion economy generates 70 percent of its export earnings through the sale of coffee, an industry that provides an income for 800,000 farmers in a total population of 10 million, according to the African Development Bank. The country, which grows mainly the arabica variety, has suitable natural conditions to harvest high-quality beans, the bank says.

While the government, backed by the World Bank, is trying to sell all state-owned bean-washing stations and deregulate the industry, the producers’ group says it needs more support as they face a lack of fertilizer and poor access to credit.

Production of the beans since March reached about 13,300 metric tons against a goal of 21,800 tons for the entire year, said Ntirabampa. Output last year fell 52 percent to 11,000 tons during a lower-yielding crop cycle.

Last month, unidentified assailants in Burundi attacked nurseries growing the natural sweetener stevia on plantations co-managed by China-based Kingboon Stevia International Trade Co. and a Burundian closely held tea company, Prothem SA.

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