Facts on ground as coffee production increases

A Robusta coffee farmer attends to his crop. Photo/Michael J Ssali 

What you need to know:

  • Coffee farmers are given a lot of training in better farming practices, how to apply fertilisers, what type of fertilisers to use, and when to apply them which was not so much the case before.

Coffee production in Uganda has increased from about three million bags (60 kilogrammes each) a few years ago to over eight million bags last year according to figures from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA). 

It is likely that a bigger number of bags will be registered this year given the new interest and effort that farmers, the government, and other players are devoting to coffee farming.

Production factors 
Anthony Sekaddu, Production Manager at Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society in Bukomansimbi attributes the sharp increase to a number of factors.

“In the past, coffee farmers paid little attention to planting quality coffee seedlings,” he says. 

“Today the smart ones choose to plant cloned coffee seedlings that have been well selected and developed by researchers at National Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute (NaCCORI) of Naro Kituza. They are available all over in licensed nurseries across the coffee growing regions. The varieties are high yielding and resistant to the destructive Coffee Wilt Disease. As Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society we have our own coffee nurseries fully approved of by UCDA) and we ask our member farmers to plant only seedlings from our nurseries,” Sekaddu says.  

Best practices  
Secondly, Sekaddu pointed out that today coffee farmers are given a lot of training in better farming practices, how to apply fertilisers, what type of fertilisers to use, and when to apply them which was not  so much the case before. 

Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society Ltd actually obliges its farmers to use organic manure and always assists the farmers to get cow dung for use in their plantations. 

It also regularly trains its farmers to make compost manure and organic concoctions to fight pests. It wants all its farmers to keep livestock as a way of obtaining manure.

Elsewhere in the Masaka region many farmers use synthetic fertilisers as well to boost production.

Sekaddu went on to mention the enormous Mwanyi Telimba campaign of the Kabaka’s government, led by Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga as being a major contribution to the big coffee volumes produced these days, especially in the Central Region. 

“We cannot of course forget the Uganda government itself which made coffee the main poverty fighting crop and even went to the extent of supplying free seedlings to interested farmers,” he said.

Good prices 
Sekaddu further pointed out that the high coffee prices have attracted more people to growing the crop.

“Remember that in the past most people found banana farming to be more paying since it was not so much a seasonal crop like coffee in which case the farmer has to wait for months to earn money. However the banana crop is under attack by incurable diseases and increasingly people are turning their banana plantations into coffee plantations.”

Asked what challenges he has had as the production manager and supervisor of operations in the coffee cooperative society in the outgoing harvesting season Sekaddu said he had issues with some farmers who harvested unripe coffee cherries and others who failed to store their harvested coffee properly. 

“We have put up measures to ensure that they are helped to meet the desired quality standards. One of the measures is the provision of solar coffee driers on credit to many of our farmers. The coffee is safely protected from dust and rain as it dries. It dries to the required moisture content percentage, and it has no foreign smell whatsoever. We also provide tarpaulins to farmers on credit at the beginning of every harvest season.”

He went on to disclose that many farmers are forced to harvest coffee before it is fully ripe because of personal financial difficulties and also due to the fear that thieves might harvest the crop from their gardens before they do. 

“Our solution to this is that our members are also required to be members of Kibinge Coffee Farmers Saving and Cooperative Society Microfinance which can provide them with low credit loans to meet urgent needs like school fees, medical bills, and others. In their villages some of them form coffee protection security patrol teams to mitigate coffee theft during the night.”  

Quality assessment 
He went on to reveal that when a farmer takes his or her coffee to the society’s stores for selling it is subjected to what he called a quality assessment procedure to inform the farmer what percentage of his coffee was picked when it was not ripe, what percentage was too ripe, which percent is malt, how much of it is contaminated with soil or livestock excreta. “We normally pay lower prices for poor quality coffee and reward good farmers who produce quality coffee with higher prices.”

Shaffic  Ssenyimba, Masaka Regional Coffee Extension Officer, Uganda Coffee Development Authority has said,

“Coffee harvesting practices improved drastically in the now ending harvesting season all over Masaka Region. Ninety percent of the coffee cherries harvested were ripe. This can be attributed to the sensitization workshops about the National Coffee Act that have been conducted both in the farming villages and at hulling facilities. The corroboration between UCDA law enforcement team, Local Councils, Operation Wealth Creation, and the police has changed the region. We have seen more people drying their coffee on tarpaulins, drying racks, and taking only dry coffee for hulling.”

Non-compliance level regarding hulling wet coffee has gone down and the few that are still non-compliant on the average hull coffee that is between 14.1 to 15.0 percent.

Coffee theft 
He also said that at the beginning of the harvesting season there were lots of coffee theft cases reported across the region, mainly driven by the suddenly risen prices. Several mini task forces were carried out with the help of police sniffing dogs which caused the arrest and embarrassment of hundreds of thieves which greatly reduced theft cases.

He gave the other challenge as the lack of security prudence among the farmers. He observed that many big coffee farmers and traders and processors did not hire security guards yet the cash crop always attracts robbers.  

“Only very few paid their coffee suppliers through the bank. We strongly advise traders, farmers, and processors to hire security personnel like police and other security companies to provide protection during money transactions, like transporting money to and from the banks. We have noted some processors pay their farmers and middlemen on the same day, at the same time, and usually late in the evening. Big crowds (good people and criminals) have often been seen at the coffee factory waiting for payment. 

This is very dangerous to both the processor paying out the money and to the trader or farmer that is receiving the money. We therefore recommend that processors resort to digital forms of payment like mobile money, and force both traders and farmers to open up bank accounts so that all major payments are done through the bank,” says Sekaddu. 

He referred to the case of a prominent coffee trader, Mr John Ddamulira, who was shot at by robbers as he transported millions of shillings from a bank in Kyotera to his coffee factory at Kalisizo on Wednesday July, 12, 2023 to pay farmers and traders.

Ddamulira is reported to be undergoing intensive care in a hospital in Kampala.

Key fact 
Many farmers are forced to harvest coffee before it is fully ripe because of personal financial difficulties and also due to the fear that thieves might harvest the crop from their gardens before they do.