Uganda: Strategies Farmers Can Adopt to Sustain Coffee Production


Last year Uganda registered a remarkable increase in coffee exports. Our June 2020 coffee export performance figures from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) in the financial year 2019/2020 indicated that we set an all-time new record of 5.10 million 60-kilogramme bags.

Export earnings also remarkably went up, bringing in $496m (Shs1.79 trillion). In the previous year, we exported 4.2 million 60 – kilogrammes bags, worth $415.1m. For a very long time, Uganda’s annual coffee production had stagnated at around 3 million 60-kg bags.

Stagnation

A number of factors are said to have contributed to the stagnation. Mr Joseph Nkandu, executive director of National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE), attributes it to the Coffee Wilt Disease (CWD) which he says wiped out about 55 per cent of the Robusta coffee in the last two decades and is actually still active to this day.

Nkandu also blames the stagnation to the discouragingly low prices paid to the farmers by exploitative middlemen.

“However, a time came when the farmers themselves took up the ownership of the crop and took over responsibility for it with a view to kick out middlemen,” Nkandu says.

“Nowadays most farmers have formed groups and are even adding value to their product by selling FAQ (kase) which attracts a higher price and earning more money. Some of the farmers groups now have linked up directly with buyers overseas and they are enjoying bigger profits. Therefore, now there is a rush almost everywhere for people to grow coffee because people are building better houses, taking their children to better schools and buying cars. It is the reason you see produced coffee volumes going up.”

Nkandu recalls that it was the farmers, mainly members of NUCAFE which is headed by Gerald Ssendaula, former Minister of Finance, which in 2008 called upon government to come up with a National Coffee Policy.

“The policy delayed a bit and was only approved in December 2013. But its presence has led to a number of developments such as the formation of the National Coffee Strategy and now the National Coffee Bill,” says Nkandu.

Achieving goals

Some of the farmers who are familiar with the ideals of the National Coffee Strategy are aware that one of its targets was production of 5.8 million 60-Kg bags by 2020 and 12 million 60-Kg bags by 2040. If Uganda managed to produce 5.10 million 60-Kg bags by June 2020 then we can safely say that it is on course to achieving its expected goals.

If the farmers continue with the same zeal, Uganda may soon overtake Ethiopia as Africa’s biggest coffee producer. It is also true that given Uganda’s current interest in the coffee crop, the country appears set to produce 20 million 60-Kg bags by 2025. One of the strategies by UCDA to increase coffee production is to involve more districts in coffee production. Now some districts in northern Uganda have embraced coffee farming.

Brazilian spacing model

Nkandu’s NUCAFE has also embarked on promoting the Brazilian coffee spacing model in which the farmers plant close to 1,350 coffee trees in an acre. “This is one of the reasons Brazil is one of the world’s greatest coffee producers,” he says. “They plant more trees in the field than we have been doing here. But now more farmers are copying that model and planting more trees, which has contributed to increased national production.” Nkandu has a lot of praise for the Archdiocese of Kampala for putting increased emphasis on coffee growing. “You see the church has got a lot of land and by devoting most of it to coffee production they are bound to gain a lot of revenue.

They are determined to achieve that and they are not taking any chances,” he says.

He goes on to mention Pastor Fred Ssekyewa of Celebrate Hope Ministries who has turned nearly all his church members into coffee farmers.

“They own a coffee huller machine. They grade their coffee and sell it directly overseas at better prices, thus earning higher incomes.” Buganda cultural leaders led by Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga have also made an important contribution towards the popularisation of the crop through their Mwanyi Terimba campaign. Mayiga has wide influence as prime minister of Buganda which is a major coffee growing area and he urges all the people of Buganda to grow coffee in order to become the most prosperous region in the country under the slogan “Kuzza Buganda ku ntikko.”

Agronomic practices

Farmers are now paying more attention to good agronomic practices since they have formed groups in which members have set rules directed at producing a clean and marketable crop. “All our members must dry their coffee on clean surfaces and they must pick only red ripe coffee cherries,” says Mr Joseph Kasekende, a leading coffee farmer and member of Miti Farmers Field School, which comprises some 50 farmers.

The group is referred to as a school because, as Kasekende explains, it is also a source of new coffee production practices. The members regularly meet and either hold discussions relating to coffee farming or listen to invited agriculturists making presentations on best practices. They also learn about fighting pests and diseases including coffee wilt disease. They collect their coffee together and sell it in bulk to the highest bidder. Since they know that the prices are tied to quality they have to strictly observe good and clean production processes.

Mr Robert Ssentamu, regional coffee extension officer in Greater Masaka (Sembabule and Bukomansimbi) attributes the increasing coffee production volumes to the growing interest among religious organisations.

“West Buganda Diocese under the leadership of Bishop Katumba Tamale has launched a massive coffee production campaign. He insists that every local church in his diocese must have a coffee garden of at least one acre and he has also appealed to all Christian families in West Buganda Diocese to turn to coffee growing.” Ssentamu says the same is true for Masaka Diocese which has set up large coffee plantations besides making sure that all parishes have coffee gardens.