UN experts raise alarm over privatization of coffee sector in Burundi

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An abandoned coffee plantation in Cewe, north of Burundi. Photo: IRIN/Jocelyne Sambira

Two United Nations independent human rights experts on Thursday raised the alarm about the World Bank-led privatization of the coffee sector in Burundi.

In 2007, as part of the privatization plans, the Burundian President declared that coffee was owned by the growers until it was exported.

This arrangement allowed growers to manage the supply chain entitling them to 72% of revenues from coffee sales on international markets.

However, in 2008 and 2009 under alleged pressure from the World Bank the government moved towards full privatization of the industry.

The Bank reportedly linked its support for public health in Burundi to the reform of the coffee sector.

Coffee washing stations, where coffee beans are processed after being harvested, have subsequently been sold off to private bidders, with potentially negative and volatile impacts on grower revenues.

Olivier De Schutter, the expert on the right to food, and Cephas Lumina who deals with foreign debt and human rights, say in Burundi, the third poorest country in the world, revenues from coffee represent the difference between food security and hunger for much of the population.

Coffee accounts for 80% of the country's export earnings and the livelihoods of 55% of the population, or 750 000 families, many of whom are small-scale farmers.

Around two thirds of Burundians live below the poverty line and up to 60% are chronically malnourished

The experts call for the suspension of the privatization policy until a full assessment of its impact on human rights has been done.

Gerry Adams, United Nations

Duration: 1'53"

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