Tips for harvesting coffee this season

Good coffee farmers pick red ripe coffee cherries. Photo | Michael J Ssali

What you need to know:

  • Drying coffee cherries on tarpaulins is good because the coffee can be protected from rain by folding up the tarpaulins and covering the heaps of coffee

Robusta coffee prices have never been higher in decades than they are today at around Shs7,300 per kilogramme of processed coffee (FAQ/KASE/Clean).

The harvest season for the crop is just about to start in most of the Central Region and other parts of Uganda.

Harvesting season

Some Robusta coffee varieties are actually beginning to ripen and a number of farmers have started to pick red ripe cherries here and there in their gardens.

Coffee is a major cash crop and this is a very exciting period for coffee farmers since everyone is anxiously expecting to get some money.

Lawrence Ssekyaya, a coffee farmer at Kalugulu Village, Kisekka Sub-county, Lwengo District, received a phone call from a fellow resident last Easter Sunday informing him that some two strange young men had been spotted harvesting coffee from his garden.

Beware of thieves

The fellows had not taken the trouble to pick only ripe cherries and the coffee was rejected wherever they took it in the neighbourhood to sell it. Eventually someone reported the pair to the police and they were arrested. 

Thieves going to farmers’ gardens and stealing coffee is a big problem nowadays when coffee prices are quite high.

The thieves normally pick the coffee in a hurry and at night and they often harvest green cherries.

They hide the coffee until it turns black and dry it before selling it to the traders. Such coffee does not taste good and it lowers the quality of the country’s coffee on the international market resulting in lower commodity prices and reduced revenue earnings for the farmers.

How to guard your garden

Sowedi Sserwadda, Chairman of Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society in Bukomansimbi District, has told Seeds of Gold, “We have trained our farmers to guard their crop.

They have formed village teams to guard the coffee gardens in turns, especially at night. We also have our own specially trained guards. They are armed and we dispatch some of them to accompany the farmers doing routine patrols in the villages.”

Sowedi says every effort must be made by the farmers to keep the coffee on the trees in the garden until it is fully ripe.

Dry your coffee beans on tarpaulins 

He went on to reveal that around this time farmers are encouraged to purchase tarpaulins on which to spread the coffee for drying.

“We can even give the tarpaulins to them on credit and they pay for them later when the coffee is sold. We also provide solar dryers to the farmers in a similar way,” says Sowedi.

He said drying coffee cherries on tarpaulins is good because the coffee can be protected from rain by folding up the tarpaulins and covering the heaps of coffee.

He further said farmers should not store ripe coffee in their houses and should immediately spread it out under the sun to dry.

Members of Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society are also members of Kibinge Coffee Farmers Microfinance which normally grants loans to farmers to sort out school fees, hospital bills, house construction and other issues.

Best practices

Some farmers however due to financial constraints harvest their coffee before it is ripe and sell it to unscrupulous traders.

Some do so out of fear that the thieves might harvest it yet it is their only hope for money to offset family needs.

There are yet other farmers who sell their coffee to middle men when it is still in the garden just around the time of harvesting to avoid the burden of picking and drying the crop.

Deo Nuwagaba, Assistant Executive Director, National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE), says coffee farmers should become members of SACCOs which can grant them credit or some cash to keep them going as they wait for the coffee to get ripe. He praises Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society for the formation of their own microfinance institution to help its members with loans in times of need. 

“Selling of coffee cherries before they are picked from the garden and well dried leads to loss of profit by the farmers,” he says.

Coffee law

To reduce farm coffee thefts Nuwagaba  emphasizes the need for quick adoption of the National Coffee Act 2018 which requires registration of all coffee actors --- farmers, buyers, and processors --- in order to build a traceability system. “The buyers should be persons of integrity who should buy only good quality coffee from registered farmers,” he says. “The local registered coffee buyer will hesitate to buy coffee from an individual that is not known to be a coffee farmer. This should then edge out people who sell coffee stolen from other people’s gardens.”

He also emphasises the importance of taking up NUCAFE’s Farmers Ownership Model Development Plan which aims at the farmers owning their crop and building the coffee value chain for sustainable livelihoods. In their groups, for example, farmers can possess such gadgets as a weighing scale and a moisture meter so that they don’t have to wait for the buyer to tell them how much their coffee weighs or how dry it is.

Security team

Shaffic Ssenyimba, Masaka Regional Coffee Extension Officer, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), says he has set up a network of informers to report all bad coffee post-harvest practices carried out. “We work closely with the police and if, for example, we learn about farmers drying coffee on the bare ground instead of tarpaulins, raised wire mesh, or cemented or brick laid floors we go for them and destroy the coffee.  We now even have a law in place, the National Coffee Act, and we can institute legal proceedings against people who mishandle coffee. We are also aware of some farmers and buyers who hide unripe coffee in their stores and as soon as we discover them we go for them and destroy the coffee.”

Ssenyimba strongly encourages farmers to report all cases of farm coffee thefts to the police and to his office. “In UCDA we have a team of lawyers that can assist farmers to pursue all coffee theft cases in the courts of law,” he told Seeds of Gold. 

He went on to warn farmers against heaping harvested coffee cherries in their stores for too long as this leads to development of mould growth which is a big health risk and a cause of inferior coffee cup taste. He discourages farmers selling their coffee when it is still in the garden or when it has just been harvested and before it is dried.

“As a matter of fact my role is also to ensure that farmers take good care of the coffee crop when it is still in the garden,” says Ssenyimba. “It is the rainy season now and some farmers are planting coffee. Our stand is that everyone should go for the right planting material obtained from registered and well recognized coffee nurseries. Then all farmers are expected to give the crop the best care by applying fertilizers where the soil is poor and preventing weed growth.

His role also involves checking on buyers that don’t observe hygienic coffee post-harvest handling practices. “Coffee buyers should not buy coffee that is not clean or fully dried (below 13 to 14 percent moisture content) and they should make sure that the coffee they buy is not stolen.  They must also have good coffee storage facilities.”


Thieves going to farmers’ gardens and stealing coffee is a big problem nowadays when coffee prices are quite high.

The thieves normally pick the coffee in a hurry and at night and they often harvest green cherries.