Will PDM cash benefit small-holder coffee farmers in central region?

Workers prepare coffee seedlings at a nursery bed in Masaka. PHOTO / MICHAEL J SSALI

What you need to know:

  • The programme has seen more people, including youths, set up coffee gardens and plant higher yielding Robusta coffee varieties.

There is increasing investment in coffee production in the central region, especially following Buganda’s popularised programme, “Emwanyi Terimba” project, loosely translated as  “if you plant coffee, you will not regret”.

The programme has seen more people, including youths, set up coffee gardens and plant higher-yielding Robusta coffee varieties.

Religious leaders have also offered large chunks of Church land to coffee growing, insisting that the investment is bound to substantially supplement their income.

Coffee is also the country’s leading agricultural foreign exchange earner. It earned Uganda $718 million (about Shs2.7 trillion ) in 2021 from 6.7 million 60kg bags produced that year, according to Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA).

The Parish Development Model (PDM) is one of the many interventions that the government has come up with to increase household incomes and welfare for poor Ugandans. So how is the coffee sector going to benefit from  PDM?

Mr Musisi Ssebatta, the chairperson of coffee farmers in Masaka Sub-region, says: “I am not yet quite certain how PDM is going to help coffee farmers. It has been designed to help those who are struggling to get into the money economy. But how can Shs1m help a coffee farmer?”

Mr Ssebatta adds that a coffee farmer has to be very patient because it takes between two and three years for the coffee tree to produce flowers after planting.

“The period between flowering and harvesting coffee cherries is equal to a woman’s pregnancy period . So, if  he is  poor, will the PDM allow farmers to take such a long period to pay back the loans?” he asks.

However, another coffee farmer,  Mr Gava Kazibwe, who is also the Gombolola security officer at Kisekka Sub-County in Lwengo District,  differs.

“The PDM will work with farmers’ associations and groups. The groups will select the most deserving farmers to be given loans. Some of them will need the money to buy inputs like fertilisers or spray pumps and pay after selling their coffee,” Mr Kazibwe says.

Alternatives

“A person with young coffee trees can grow quick maturing crops like beans and groundnuts between the coffee lines, harvest them and pay the PDM loan. Even those who are just beginning to grow coffee can benefit from this project’s funds,” he adds.

Mr Fred Nsamba, a coffee farmer at Mpugwe Village, Mukungwe Sub-county, Masaka District, faults PDM for requiring them  to subscribe to groups doing the same farming activity.

“Some people are coffee seedlings dealers and others are coffee farmers. But I seem to be the only one engaged in coffee value addition in this entire sub-county. I am the only one making powdered coffee and I need a motorised coffee grinding machine, but I will miss out because I have been told to belong to an association,”  Mr Nsamba says. Mr Charles Lwanga, a model coffee farmer, who is also the Kabaka’s representative in Ngereko Parish, Kisekka Sub-county, Buddu County, thinks that the money invested in PDM should be used to solve problems that farmers face such as setting up underground water drilling projects or water dams.

“PDM could easily pass like any other government interventions. They have all been about handing out money or providing free coffee seedlings and telling people to form groups, but poverty still persists,” he says.

According to Mr Lwanga, it is difficult to get everybody out of poverty because of their mindset.

For instance, he says some people in villages start their day by going to drinking joints instead of being engaged in a fruitful activity.

 “One of the major hurdles for coffee farmers is lack of water for irrigation. So, I would expect the government to put more energy in availing farmers with water and infrastructure. Otherwise, giving or lending out money to farmers will most likely be interpreted as political rewards and never be paid back as has been the case in all previous  interventions,” Mr Lwanga says.

Hajj Sowedi Sserwadda, the chairperson of Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society in Bukomansimbi District, says: “We have our own saving and credit system. Our farmers may go for such government interventions but every member of our society has a savings account with us. Farmers can borrow at ease and pay back when we buy their coffee. They can get inputs such as cow dung as fertiliser, tarpaulins, or borrow money for school fees. PDM will be just another financial credit option.”

Contribution to economy

Through their cooperative societies, the farmers usually contribute a considerable percentage of the graded green coffee which the government exports to other countries.

For example, Kibinge Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Society in Bukomansimbi District contributed a total of 1,280 bags of 60kgs to the country’s general coffee export of 2,289,880 bags, according to the Comparative Coffee Export performance report of 2020/2021 by  UCDA.

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