PDM: How will Nebbi, Zombo coffee farmers gain?

 Ms Lucian Olyera in her coffee garden in Erussi Sub-county, Nebbi District. PHOTO / PATRICK OKABA

What you need to know:

  • Being a major cash crop in the two districts, many farmers have embraced it and want the government to prioritise it when disbursing the Parish Development Model cash because it brings in foreign exchange.

Coffee grown in West Nile, particularly Nebbi and Zombo districts, is said to have a great aroma and a unique flavour that distinguishes it from that of other parts of the country.

Being a major cash crop in the two districts, many farmers have embraced it and want the government to prioritise it when disbursing the Parish Development Model cash because it brings in foreign exchange.

Initially, coffee in the districts was grown on small scale and the surplus would be sold to middlemen.

But now, family heads have passed on coffee growing skills to their children since it has proved to be a reliable source of livelihood.

A walk through the rural areas shows that nearly every household in Zombo has prioritised coffee growing.

A cup of coffee welcomes you in most homes. It is also common to find kettles of boiling coffee in the farmers’ gardens.

They believe coffee rejuvenates the strength to work more.

Sipping hot coffee also suits the cold environment, especially in the evenings. But in the early 1960s, coffee was mainly grown on a large scale because of the available market, and through the Okoro Coffee Growers Cooperative Union, farmers benefited more from their crop.

Changed fortunes

The prices were lucrative until the infiltration of middlemen in the market in the 1990s to date, which discouraged some farmers.

Mr Donald Orwotho, 54, a resident of Jupandika East village, Nyibola parish in Paidha in Zombo, has been producing coffee for the last 20 years and offers more hope of business boom.

He says unlike other businesses, coffee is profitable when well managed since his family relies on it mainly for basic needs such as paying school fees.

“Coffee has been able to improve my livelihood and we have chased poverty from my household. If the government can support the farmers through PDM, then it will boost our fight against poverty,” he says.

Mr Orwotho, however, says they face several challenges ranging from inadequate tools like scissors for pruning, tarpaulins and unfulfilled promises from the coffee unions on offering loans to boost and improve coffee production.

He had hoped to benefit from the parish model but lost interest due to previous experiences.

“Most times, government projects do not yield fruits, they are always mismanaged. I have lost faith in these government projects. Look at Emyooga, Operation Wealth Creation and others. Whenever we are mobilised to register to benefit from a government project, the benefits are always enjoyed by those top people (programme implementers),”  he says.

He has resorted to microfinance institutions for loans to expand his coffee business.

Mr Orwotho stores his coffee for five months before taking it to the market.

Last year, he sold his kilogram of coffee between Shs7,000 and Shs8,000 compared to when it went for between Shs6,500 and Shs7,000 in 2020.

“It keeps fluctuating,” he observes. He is optimistic that the prices will improve this season.

“This time, I am projecting it to go up to Shs10,000 per kilo because few farmers have produced coffee,” Mr Orwotho says.

He earns between Shs4 million and Shs5 million every season from his acre of land. According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2014 census, there are 7,632 households that are engaged in coffee growing in Zombo.

Just like Mr Orwotho, Ms Roseline Iwutung,45, from Abanga Sub-county, says coffee has improved her family’s livelihood.

The mother of nine children has been growing coffee for nine years.

She cites price fluctuations and intense market competition which puts their livelihoods at risk.

For instance, last year, a kilo of coffee was selling at Shs7,000 compared to Shs 6,000 in 2020.

“I have been able to build my three-bedroomed house. We were also able to buy more land that enabled us to expand our coffee plantation and this has improved our standards of living since we can afford most basics,”  Ms Iwutung says.  She hopes to expand his acreage of coffee plantations if he receives PDM cash.

In Erussi Sub-county,  Nebbi, Mr Kizito Kakwo of Merber pi Anyim group, who has depended on coffee for 25 years, says they are  being frustrated by the monopoly of coffee companies. He says the companies deny farmers access to benefits hence leaving them poor.

But will PDM protect them from such companies and some middlemen who have for long exploited them?

“We believe that through PDM, we will access the money directly. It will boost our production and more farmers will pick interest in the venture. Coffee is my gold because I use the profits for paying school fees. I constructed a permanent house, which the group members are using as a storage facility for their coffee beans,” Mr Kakwo said.

He says although coffee is a lucrative enterprise, pests and diseases, theft of coffee beans, poor storage, bad weather and poor road network system, among other challenges, hinder the sector.

The escalating fuel prices will also make it hard for farmers to export their produce.

Another farmer, Ms Lucian Olyera from  Athele village, Pajur Parish in Erussi Sub-county, says middlemen rip off all their profits . Ms Olyera urges the government to enact laws which protect farmers from being exploited .

“The Shs100 million that the government is giving for a parish is too little to support the farmer groups since the price  of general commodities has skyrocketed. If the finance basket could allow, government should increase the funds to Shs200 million,” Ms Olyera says.   

According to June statistics from Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), coffee exports for financial year 2021/2022 totalled 6.26 million bags compared to 6.08 million bags the previous year. This represents an increase of 3 percent and 54 percent in both quantity and value, respectively.

What parish chiefs say

Mr Robert Rwothongeyo, the chairperson of Paidha Sub-county, says sensitising farmers has been completed, including enrollment, data collection, and they are now training them on the choice of enterprises.

He is optimistic that farmers will benefit from the PDM unlike the previous programmes because it offers them an opportunity in building their groups. The arrangement also allows for knowledge sharing.

“Our major challenge is extension workers who registered farmers in their individual capacities instead of mobilising them to form groups.

 “But we are correcting this,” he said.

Ms Charity Iwutung, the agricultural officer Paidha town council, says the amount each farmer will get hasn’t been determined due to absence of a Parish Development Committee (PDC).

“If a farmer is applying for coffee seedlings, he will not be given cash but the PDC will go to the farmer’s field to determine the cost. As the farmer starts cultivation, they will see how much is required, then the farmer does all the cost of production, after which the details will go to the parish Sacco to see how much money is incurred,” she says.Ms Iwutung encourages the farmers to test their soils.

“These soils have been exhausted. Soil and water conservation is equally important since it helps in replacing lost nutrients,” she says

Why Arabica coffee thrives here

Arabica coffee is grown in relatively cool climates in the region between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. The optimum temperature is between 15-24ºC (59-75ºF) year-round.

Areas with less rainfall can use irrigation to compensate. A period of moisture stress (rain after a dry spell) helps cause a homogenous flowering and therefore promotes a clearly defined harvesting season.

Coffee-producing countries with more than one wet and dry season will have more than one harvesting season.


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