It is 12.05pm and Joseph Lwevuze is attending to a team of visitors from Sudan accompanied by officials from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA). The visitors had paid a visit to his garden found in Ntangala Village, Katikamu Sub County in Luweero District, which is about 13km off the Kampala –Gulu highway. He asks for 30 minutes to finalise with his visitors before our conversation starts.
At 12:45pm, we sit down for our talk. He shares how he gets visitors every week and has so far lectured more than 5,000 people, including farmers and university students from Uganda and neighbouring countries.
“I am one of the few farmers who have maintained their coffee and banana gardens for years using basic knowledge. By basic knowledge I mean organic practices like pruning, weeding and organic manure. I don’t use chemicals and so people come here to learn,” Lwevuze says.
Lwevuze ventured into coffee growing in 1986 and has spent 31 years in the business. He started with three acres then graduated to seven and is now a proud owner of a 10-acre coffee plantation. He says he grew up seeing his parents making money from coffee and bananas and when he graduated with a bachelors degree in agriculture, he followed the already beaten path.
Lwevuze harvests 100 bags of coffee weighing 80kg per season. Simple mathematics put his earnings between Shs40m and Shs50m each season.
His coffee harvests largely depend on weather conditions as well as the current market prices.
To him, coffee maintenance requires full commitment and application of basic agriculture practices like slashing, regular weeding and pruning.
“When you are not fully committed, you will always depend on chemicals for spraying. But when you are devoted to your garden you will never use chemicals. You need basic practices like slashing, regular weeding and cutting off unwanted branches,” he says.
He believes chemicals kill nitrogen fixing bacteria, thus making the soil infertile. He has maintained his coffee by using organic manure which he makes from cow dung, piggery waste, coffee husks and poultry droppings. These organic fertilisers are got from his farm. With organic manure, he says, he saves a lot of money he could have spent on chemicals, adding that organic manure helps him manage piggery, poultry and cattle waste.
“Coffee is a crop that is easy to manage because it just needs regular weeding and pruning. Don’t allow coffee branches to intertwine because it will attract congestion, pests and diseases,” he adds.
Lwevuze says many of his friends who largely rely on chemicals are financially limping because the output is almost equivalent to input.
“My friends are now coming to me to teach them how to make and use organic manure,” he boasts.
Lwevuze advises coffee farmers and those who intend to venture into coffee growing to always visit already established and experienced farmers to learn how to manage gardens.
Lwevuze is not in a comfort zone as he says part of his farm was ravaged by coffee wilt, which decreased his production greatly.
But he quickly found out that planting clonal robusta coffee was the solution because it is more resistant to wilting.
“You need to be innovative and a quick decision maker, especially when diseases and pests attack your gardens. Seek advice and if it means switching the variety do it without hesitation. I realise native coffee varieties were prone to diseases and I changed,” he says.
He cites signs of coffee wilt like withering of leaves, yellowish colour, falling off of leaves and drying of coffee stems.
He, however, warns that yellowish leaves could be an indication of soil deficiency or lack of nutrients. Soil deficiency is usually caused by competition for nutrients and water by other trees in the garden.
Once you spot signs of disease in your coffee gardens, Lwevuze says you should , among other, things, prune, remove some trees, weed or consult an agriculturalist.
Other challenge Lwevuze complains about is the fluctuating coffee prices.
Lwevuze diversifies his farming and owns four acres of bananas which keep him happy too, with estimated Shs8m monthly earnings.
“I planted 1,000 banana trees and they are now giving two bunches each. Soon I will be harvest three bunches from each and this would earn at least Shs16m per month,” he projects.
He says when you have over five acres of land you should grow more than one crop so you can earn continuously.
This, he says basing on coffee because it is seasonal whereas with bananas you can sell from January to December. Besides, bananas provide food for home consumption.
Lwevuze boasts of, among other achievements, educating his children, building a reasonable home for himself and his mother. He adds that he has become famous because of farming.
“I am not the most educated neither am I a member of royal or First Family but people trek miles to come to my home.
Edmund Kananura, an official of Uganda Coffee Development Authority’s (UCDA) quality and regulatory services, describes Lwevuze as a model farmer whom coffee farmers should learn from. He applauds him for maintaining organic practices which he says leads to good quality coffee.
“Khartoum imports coffee that is organic. That means our farmers should embrace organic ways of managing pests and diseases to benefit from such markets,” Kananura says.
He adds that Uganda exports more than 800,000 coffee bags to Sudan every year adding that it would be bad if such a country starts doubting the quality of Ugandan coffee.