My name is Joseph Nkandu. I was born in Mabanga village, Namayumba Sub County in Wakiso District. My father and my mother were coffee farmers. So, coffee was their source of livelihood at home; this means that the payment of fees and upkeep at school came from the proceeds from coffee sales.
Because of this background, even when I went to school, somehow I opted for agriculture-related disciplines. This probably explains why my first degree from at Makerere University was in agriculture.
Hard work, little returns
Because of the passion I had for agriculture, when I finished my studies at the university, I did not look for an office job but started organising coffee farmers in 1999.
Since that year, from the three farmer organisations in Masaka Nebbi and Sironko, we are now talking of about 160 associations with a total of more than 600,000 farmers. Now, these farmers export coffee to Italy, Japan and USA.
I wanted to ensure that they benefit more from their hard work on the farms. Because from my experience at my parents’ home and from what I saw with other farmers, I realised they were doing a lot yet earning less from their labour.
It is probably well known that coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity, next to oil.
This means that there is money in it. but I wondered why farmers were not getting out of poverty yet they were growing a valuable commodity.
Farmers did not have ownership over the coffee that they grew but were reduced to just “spectators” because of the way coffee was traded.
Whenever a trader would come to the farmer, he would ask the farmer how much he or she was selling the coffee; the farmer would then turn the question to the trader about how much is he or she was offering.
Then who owned the coffee? If the farmer could not tell the buyer how much his or her coffee was worth then the coffee belonged to the buyer, I always wondered.
The other issue I realised was that the farmers were selling their coffee at the farm gate while others sold it when it was still on the trees.
Through the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe), together with the people I work with, we started organising the farmers on how to own their coffee.
We organised them in associations and later on getting them to the primary processing units.
I remember the first time that we did this their income doubled and they were amazed with the results. We then took them into further value addition of grading the coffee in order for them to earn more money according to the size of the beans for export.
When this was done, the farmers income increased by 30 per cent.
I studied the entire coffee value chain all through right from the nursery up to the stage when it is a cup of coffee. I looked at how much value added the farmer is able to get along the chain.
I was the first person to study the entire coffee value chain and to show the farmers how much they earn per each stage along the value chain.