Youth startup brews income from coffee value addition
What you need to know:
- Uganda has the second youngest population in the world, with 55 percent of the population below 18 years and 70 percent below 30 years. Yet most of the coffee farmers are aging.
Having more youth involved in the coffee value chain is what the youth-based startup Mara Agribusiness, thinks can keep more coffee coming from Uganda.
Uganda has the second youngest population in the world, with 55 percent of the population below 18 years and 70 percent below 30 years. Yet most of the coffee farmers are aging.
“If you look at that trend you find that if we do not involve the young, the chain may break at some point,” says Zipporah Ayebare a marketing specialist at Mara Agribusiness, noting that the youths need to look at coffee farming as a business.
Another gap is that most of the rural farmers in the remote areas, tend to coffee trees using skill sets passed onto them by forefathers.
This is the void Mara Agribusiness attempts to fill. Mara Agribusiness is a youth-led and technology-focused social enterprise that provides input and output services to coffee farmers.
Through the youth network, Mara Agribusiness trains farmers in coffee agronomy and sells agro-inputs to smallholder farmers and aggregates; processes and markets the finished coffee to coffee lovers.
Birth of an idea
Zipporah Ayebare, a marketing specialist at Mara says they conducted research in the Elgon region in 2017 and in the many recommendations, they sought to fix the gap of having more youth involved in coffee farming.
“We opted to start working with the youth. The obvious challenge is that most of the youth do not have access to land and many lack knowledge in coffee production. This encouraged us to train them in best agronomy practices while giving out free seedlings to youth between 20-35 years who had access to at least one acre of land,” Ayebare says.
Through vigorous training, the startup has introduced better farming skills in the partnering villages which increased the coffee yields.
At the start, Mara Agribusiness was overambitious working in eight districts but realised it was unsustainable in terms of training and has since scaled down. Currently they work with 1,050 farmers in Mityana, Mayuge, Masaka, Kamuli, Luweero and Bulambuli.
Mara Agribusiness now employs more than 30 youths directly as barristers, agronomists and quality control officers, and administrators with agro input distribution in Mayuge, Luweero and Bulambuli.
In each district, there are about five farmer groups and we have three model farmers. But demand grew for their services during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“We later realised the farmers had good coffee but had no market. That is why we decided to off take some of it, giving birth to Aramah Coffee in 2020,” Ayebare says.
Ayebare says the majority of the workers involved are youths. She argues that there must be a deliberate effort to involve young people in the coffee value chain.
“We would like to have coffee produced sustainably and there is no way you can do that if you don’t involve young people,” she says.
“Involving them along the value chain is extremely important. They begin to see the value, they begin to see it as a productive enterprise.”
Ayebare explains that coffee takes three to four years before harvesting starts. She said most of the youths are not that patient, they want quick money.
She believes coffee farming is more sustainable as one can keep harvesting for a period of more than 10 years, from the same coffee trees, adding there is high rural-urban migration in search for quick-money making jobs, yet agriculture employs about 80 percent of the population, with coffee as the leading export earner.
Despite being the largest coffee-producer in Africa, Ugandans have been typically tea drinkers.
In 2018, Ugandans consumed only three to four percent of the coffee produced in the country, according to a parliamentary committee report.
With the coffee culture evolving, accessibility remains an issue. The younger generation of coffee entrepreneurs are looking to change this.
Aramah, founded by Bobby Ogwang, a coffee farmer, buys coffee from dozens of farmers.
It is then processed at the shared facility of CURAD Incubator - Kabanyoro where it is roasted and stored.
The roasted beans are then transported in small quantities to Bugoolobi at The Design Hub where they rent office space and stored in push bags in bean form.
Ayebare says they only grind some when the customer makes a request.
“We package the coffee in 250g, 500g and one kilogramme bags and these are sold at Shs15,000, Shs25,000 and Shs35,000, respectively,” she says.
Aramah was birthed during Covid-19 because middlemen who used to buy farmers’ coffee were unable to access them. So the youth coffee farmers started reaching out to Mara Agribusiness.
“But we are unable to off take all the coffee from all the youth groups. Right now we are able to buy between 500 and 800 kilogrammes monthly from two youth groups. We recommend other off takers such as Nucafe to buy the excess which is about two tonnes,” she says.
Arabica coffee is bought from Masira and Buyaga in Bulambuli District while Robusta is bought from Sekanyonyi in Mityana.
Ayebare says coffee is the backbone of most homesteads in rural Uganda, adding that although coffee supports many livelihoods, it is yet it is rarely consumed locally.
“Coffee consumption in Uganda is so low that it is not sustainable for us as a business. We have decided to look into the export market. But at the same time we are also encouraging people to consume more coffee. What we are doing is collaborating with partners such as UCDA and we do free coffee tasting at major events. It is the easiest we can do in our capacity,” she says.
She adds: “Many Ugandan consumers have myths about coffee and by tasting it for free they end up appreciating it. Some, she says, believe that is not good for the women saying it dehydrates them while others say it makes them anxious.
A marketing specialist, Ayebare says coffee is very interesting and offers tips on consuming coffee.
“First of all the way you take coffee matters. Take a cup of water before drinking coffee and take it in the morning hours,” she says.
“Even me I only knew about Nescafe. After joining Aramah I realised it is different from the coffee we produce in Uganda. Nescafe is pre-brewed instant coffee which is crystallised yet our coffee is ground coffee with all its aroma,” Ayebare notes.
Uganda targets becoming the world’s third-largest exporter of coffee by 2025, by exporting about 20 million 60-kg bags, to put it behind Brazil (40.2 million bags and Vietnam (26.4 million bags.)
As a result, the government is urging farmers to scale up coffee farming with a target to increase production, and triple the income of 1.7 million households that derive their livelihood from coffee. According to the country’s coffee roadmap, the government is targeting to reap up to $2.2b annually from the sector by 2030.
Apart from the traditional markets in Europe and the U.S., Uganda is now looking at new markets such as China.
Ayebare says that in order to tap into such markets, there must be deliberate efforts to teach young people the best way of producing coffee for such markets.
The global markets monitor the coffee process from the tree to the cup. Farmers are not allowed to use agrochemicals to spray pests and diseases. The coffee cherries are carefully hand-picked and dried. Ayebare says while that process of specialty coffee is tedious, it fetches premium prices which have improved farmers’ livelihood.
Currently Arabica coffee costs between Shs9,000 and 10,000 per kilogramme of red cherries. Aramah adds 10 percent to the farmer to empower the youth coffee farmers to appreciate the work.
“We decided to buy coffee from them at a premium cost five percent higher than the prevailing market price to empower them and improve their livelihoods. We are empowering the rural youth farmers to have agriculture as an income generating activity,” she notes.
The biggest impact so far is having the coffee farmers earn from their activities and creation of employment along the value chain.
Aramah aims at accessible and affordable agro-inputs to coffee farmers and trades in high-quality sustainable and traceable youth coffee to create 2,500 direct decent jobs for rural youth in Uganda by 2025.
“The hard work of having the farmers realise that they can earn from the coffee is a big win for us. Once the farmers are happy, the coffee is going to be good, then their livelihoods are going to improve,” Ayebare explains.
2,500 decent jobs
The biggest impact so far is having the coffee farmers earn from their activities and creation of employment along the value chain. Aramah aims at accessible and affordable agro-inputs to coffee farmers and trades in high-quality sustainable and traceable youth coffee to create 2,500 direct decent jobs for rural youth in Uganda by 2025. Aramah, founded by Bobby Ogwang, a coffee farmer, buys coffee from dozens of farmers.