Kisero blossoms in banana, coffee mixed farming 

Ms Oliver Kisero scouts for ripe coffee berries on her farm. Photos/Lominda Afedraru

What you need to know:

  • Pulping involves the removal of the outer red skin known as exocarp and the white fleshy pulp (mesocarp) and the separation of the pulp and the beans. Immature cherries are hard to pulp therefore, if the coffee is to be wet processed, correct harvesting is essential.

It is a well-known fact that coffee is Uganda’s top earning export produce the reason a good number of farmers are growing the crop as income earning initiative.

Farmers in Uganda grow Robusta and Arabica coffee varieties in different geographical areas namely central, western, south western, northern and eastern regions.

The eastern region at the slopes of Mountain Elgon is known for growing Arabica coffee where Seeds of Gold caught up with a progressive farmer who is practicing mixed farming where she intercrops coffee with East African highland banana (Matooke).

A one hour drive from Mbale town to Oliver Kisero’s farm in Makyele Village, Buginyanya Sub-county in Bulambuli District is such a scare because it is a climb from the lowland to the top of the slopes of the mountains where the fertile lands are located.

Upon arrival at Kisero’s farm, one is welcomed with the quiet and cool atmosphere embraced by high yielding coffee and banana as seen from the plantation.

Kisero explains how she grows banana with coffee

Uganda is the second coffee producing country in Africa after Ethiopia and it is ranked 10th in the entire world.

Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), estimates that about 500,000 households depend on coffee production.

Annual production on average is made up of 15 percent Arabica and 85 percent Robusta. In addition to serving as a main source of income, coffee has many other uses and thus provides many opportunities for value addition investment.

Coffee can be used as a medicine to cure asthma, headaches and Alzheimer’s disease.

As a stimulant, coffee can inhibit sleep which can make someone to keep working for longer hours.

Coffee is mostly grown in mixed farms where it is intercropped with food crops such as bananas and beans which ensure households’ food security.

It is also grown among shade trees that result into sustainable coffee production, while ensuring a social, economic and suitable environment that requires a minimal use of agro-chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides.

Arabica coffee is usually grown in mixed farms with food crops for home consumption such as beans, peanuts and bananas. It is mainly grown under shade trees that ensure sustainable production. The leaves that fall from the shade trees provide manure for the coffee plants.

In Mbale the planting season for Arabica coffee is between March and April and harvesting is between August and November. The trees flower during the dry season.

In 2021/2022, Uganda’s coffee exports increased by 23 percent. According to UCDA, the increase in coffee volumes was attributed to the newly planted coffee varieties, supported by favourable weather.

In the same period, coffee prices more than doubled. The positive trend in prices was linked to market access and the incremental efforts towards increasing the volumes of premium grade. 

How it all began
Kisero has practiced farming throughout her life right from childhood since her own family were into coffee farming as a major source of income.

However the turning point in her farming is when she dropped from school in Senior One after her mother’s death.

At the age of 16 she got married to Joseph Kisero and embarked on small scale farming on a half an acre land belonging to her husband.

In 1992 the family started expanding the land to 10 acres with money obtained from coffee sales. Most of the farming activities were done by her because her husband worked as bursar in a school in Mbale.

She began her expansion by planting 100 quality coffee seedlings but today the entire 10 acres is a coffee plantation intercropped with banana.

The family has another eight acres in the lowlands of Bulambuli where they are mainly planting maize and beans for food and for commercialisation.

Marketing of coffee
Since UCDA is on ground and in touch with coffee farmers in Bulambuli, Kisero has not been left behind.

She sells her coffee to UCDA as main purchaser but she has two other companies in Kampala where she also sells her coffee beans.

She is able to harvest five and six tonnes of coffee annually but she also purchases coffee cherries from fellow farmers to add onto her harvest.

She sells premium coffee beans at Shs12,000 per kilogramme and she also sells green beans to various roasters in Kampala at Shs20,000 per kilogramme. Most of her buyers come to carry out the purchase on farm meaning she avoids transport costs.

She is also now roasting coffee and packaging on small scale which she packages in various quantities.

She sells 50grammes at Shs5,000, 100grammes goes at Shs10,000, 250 grammes is sold at Shs15,000 and one kilogramme goes for Shs30,000

Ms Kisero displays some of her processed coffee beans. 

Coffee processing
Taking Seeds of Gold through coffee processing, Kisero explains that coffee takes approximately four years to start flowering and producing cherries.

Once the cherry is ripe it is harvest through picking the seed and various processing stage starts

Wet processing
Wet processing is used mainly for Arabica coffee. Wet processing involves three stages:

Removal of pulp and mucilage followed by washing to obtain clean wet parchment.

Pulping involves the removal of the outer red skin known as exocarp and the white fleshy pulp (mesocarp) and the separation of the pulp and the beans.

Immature cherries are hard to pulp therefore, if the coffee is to be wet processed, correct harvesting is essential.

There are two most common pulpers. The first pulper is the drum pulper which involves a rotating drum with a punched sheet surface and adjustable breast plate between which coffee cherries are pulped and the breast plate has to be adjusted so that the pulp is removed without damaging the beans.

For larger scale units, motorised drum pulpers are advisable to be used. The second pulper involves the disc pulp which entails the use of a disc with roughened surface.

Mucilage removal
The amorphous gel of mucilage around the bean consists of hemicelluloses, pestic substances and sugars and is soluble in water.

It can therefore be removed by use of warm water or by an agua pulper. However, for small scale units, fermentation is the most feasible.

Fermentation involves the beans being placed in plastic buckets or tanks and left until the mucilage has been broken down.

Natural enzymes in the mucilage and feasts bacteria in the environment work together to break down the mucilage.

The beans should be stirred occasionally and a few beans tested by washing them in water.

After this, the wet processed beans are dried to prevent cracking and this should be done slowly to 10 percent moisture content level and similar drying methods can be used for this as for the dry processed coffee.

After drying, the coffee should be rested for eight hours in a well ventilated place and the thin parchment around the coffee removed by hand, pestle and mortar or in a small huller.

Dry processing 
Dry processing involves the freeing of the wet parchment of mucilage at moisture contents of 50 – 60 percent to the required 12 percent to ensure their conservation. Dry processing involves coffee cherries drying either by the sun or solar drying on raised stands or on mats or in solar driers immediately after harvest.

After coffee drying, hulling commences. This is the removal of the pericarp either by a pestle and mortar or in a mechanical huller.

Secondary processing
Secondary processing is the final post-harvest process before coffee is exported. This stage involves: pre-cleaning and de-stoning, size grading, gravimetric sorting and finally for export of green coffee beans

Apart from exporting green coffee beans, coffee can also be processed to make higher value-added coffee beverage products.

This level of coffee processing involves roasting, grinding, making of instant coffee, extraction of soluble coffee solids and other products using imported technology.

Banana farming
Apart from obtaining proceeds from coffee, the family harvests matooke at intervals throughout the year.

Most of harvest weighs between 10 and 70 kilogrammes which is sold at Shs15, 000 and Shs30, 000 depending on the size. On average the family is able to reap Shs15m or more annually.

Kisero advices communities who have land to take up farming as a business because it can fetch money needed to care for their families and to educate their children.

The records indicate that in the 2021/2022 season, farmers in Bulambuli recorded a significant increase in yields with an average of 1.2 tonnes per acre compared to 0.8 tonnes per acre in the previous season.

In total, Bulambuli produced 15,720 tonnes compared to 11,569 tonnes in 2020/2021.