It is no longer really true that growing Robusta coffee is a prerogative for the patient farmers that can afford to wait several years after planting before they can harvest the crop and begin earning money, according to Matia Ssengooba the proprietor of Ssemanja Coffee Nursery in Rakai District.
He says that if intending coffee farmers take time to find the right plantlets, it takes them much shorter to start harvesting the crop and getting money.
“I have heard a lot of young men saying that the coffee trees take three years and even longer to produce their first berries after planting and that they prefer to go for crops like tomatoes, beans and maize which can be harvested and sold only after three or four months,” he told Seeds of Gold.
“The elderly also tend to avoid growing a crop that they know will take years before they can benefit from it.”
If prospective coffee farmers plant the right size of plantlets, they will be able to harvest coffee between one year and two years if they carry out good agronomic practices.
“Growing cloned Robusta coffee is a highly paying investment and it is now the crop for the young and elderly to resort to if they want good money quickly,” Ssengooba said.
“I have a strong reason for recommending cloned Robusta coffee. Besides growing pretty fast it is high yielding and it has a large bean size.
It is therefore highly recommended for people with small plots of land and eager to get a regular source of income since coffee is harvested twice every year.”
According to him, a cloned coffee plantlet should have spent about a year in the nursery bed and should be at least a foot tall before its transfer to the garden.
“The farmer should also ensure that the nursery bed from which he or she intends to get the plantlets from is well recommended by the area agricultural services extension officer.
Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) has approved of some coffee nursery beds and it is from such nurseries that the farmer should go for the best planting material.”
It is also important that the farmer follows the correct planting guidelines by digging holes two feet deep and two feet wide and filling them up with black surface soil preferably mixed with organic manure. The holes should be some ten feet from one another.
It would be better to plant the plantlets at the beginning of the rain season since initially they need good soil moisture to grow with vigour.
At the time of planting, the farmer must remove the polythene container of the block of soil in which the roots of the coffee plantlet are located.
Space big enough to be filled with the block of soil should be made in the prepared hole that was filled with black surface soil mixed with organic manure and it is into that space that the plantlet is placed.
It must be remembered that this is a new home for the coffee plantlet, which has been rather suddenly removed from the tender nursery conditions.
Therefore the farmer should ensure it has some shade over it to protect it from the hazards of direct sunlight at this young stage by planting some palm leaves or other non-sprouting plant branches close to the coffee plantlets.
These will provide some shade as the young coffee tree gets used to the rough field weather conditions.
Ssengooba went on to say that a good farmer should be in the habit of constant supervision of his garden.
“At least twice every week, the farmer should take a walk in the coffee garden to see what is taking place.
Some plantlets could be wilting or attacked by pests and the farmer should be in a position to take action.
Drip irrigation is one of the best practices to protect such young coffee plantlets from the effects of drought and as one of the ways to speed up growth.
Spot mulching around the stem of the coffee plantlet is recommended and it will keep the soil moist.
If drip irrigation is not possible the farmer may use a watering can to apply some two litres of water directly on each plantlet at least once a week.
Where the soil is well nourished and sufficient water is supplied it is almost assured that the farmer should see the cloned coffee plantlets flowering and laden with berries within less than two years according to Ssengooba.
A cloned coffee tree should have three or four branches for maximum yields. This can be achieved by the farmer bending the young tree when it reaches about two feet so that it develops new branches.
How it is done
A coffee nursery operator may prepare thousands of such potted cuttings and the next stage is to place them under a shade and cover them with clear, transparent, polythene tents to induce a high humidity environment.
The tents should be three feet wide and may be of any length depending on the number of cuttings under preparation.
Every week for about two months the farmer opens up the polythene cover tent to water the rooting cuttings.
As the cuttings gain more roots and leaves, usually after two or three months, the farmer should water them twice or more a week. He said the best time for watering is in the morning or in the evening.
One cutting is planted in each hole and the soil where the cutting is planted should be the same level as that of the rest of the field.
Planting should take place at the beginning of the rain season unless the farmer has the means to carry out irrigation.
The descendants of each clone (original coffee plant) are exactly identical wherever they are planted and as one walks through a clonal Robusta coffee garden it is easy to identify the descendants of the six different clones.
The clones are classified as A, B, C, D, F, and H. All descendants of these clones wherever they grow have proved to be high yielding if proper farming practices are applied.
Their other big advantage is that they begin to bear fruit much earlier than the plants raised from seeds planted in the field at the same time.
The implementation of a coffee-replanting program to replace old and disease-affected coffee trees, and to expand coffee production into other suitable areas in the northern and eastern parts of Uganda, seems to be helping to both combat the existing problems and reverse the declining trends.
Estimates of the economic returns (benefit–cost ratio) of the coffee-replanting programme, particularly replanting with clonal varieties suggesting that the replanting program is very beneficial to the coffee sub-sector and the economy as a whole.
The largest benefits occur in the central region, where the bulk of coffee is grown, followed by the eastern and western regions. The largest return on investment occurs in the eastern region, followed by the central and western regions.