Thursday, June 20, 2024
Home Change Makers A ‘Sisterhood’ That Is Spreading Coffee Aroma To Your Cups

A ‘Sisterhood’ That Is Spreading Coffee Aroma To Your Cups

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Herbert Musoke

For the ninth year running, Vision Group, together with the Embassy of the Netherlands, KLM Airlines, dfcu Bank and Koudijs Animal Nutrition, is running the Best Farmers competition. The 2024 competition runs from April to November, with the awards in December. Every week, Vision Group platforms will publish profiles of the farmers. Winners will walk away with sh150m and a fully paid-for trip to the Netherlands.

Bayaaya is a Lumasaba word meaning ‘sisterhood’.

Meridah Nandudu explains that she named her farm Bayaaya Specialty coffee, since she wanted to use the coffee business to empower women economically, as many were suffering due to gender-based violence.

These women depended on their abusive husbands, who sometimes did not provide for them, which pushed some of the women into prostitution.

Bayaaya specialty coffee originates from the Elgon mountains, the home of Arabica coffee and was started as a tool to help women that had suffered domestic violence and young mothers, to fight poverty.

The genesis

Nandudu was raised in a peasant family that grew coffee as a source of income.

“Growing up, I witnessed a lot of domestic violence and early marriages in the community and I determined that if I can change the life of just one woman, I will have made a big difference,” she says.

Upon graduation with a bachelor of social sciences in 2015 from Makerere University, Nandudu got a job as a coffee-buying agent with Gumutindo co-operative society in Sironko district.

She was deployed in her community, which enabled her to establish relationships with farmers, especially women.

Nandudu recalls that through these connections, she set up a farm in 2018 and started planting coffee on one acre of her parents’ land.

She used about sh2m to clear the land and buy seedlings, among others.

Today, Nandudu, who registered Bayaaya Specialty coffee in June 2022, processes the beverage.

Best practices for growing coffee

Nandudu says the price of coffee on the global market is determined by the aroma.

“Therefore, as farmers, we must ensure we have quality coffee from the garden to the cup to attract high prices,” Nandudu emphasises that variety selection is key.

She says at her farm in Budadiri East County, Sironko district, she selects varieties that mature early, but also give high yields with quality coffee beans, which will then result in increased incomes.

The common variety that meets these criteria is SL 14 from Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UDA).

She says just like other crops, coffee must be tended well to yield good harvests. To ensure good quality, Nandudu says the farmland is ploughed to soften the soil to ease penetration of the roots.

“Many farmers think that coffee does not require fertiliser. At my farm, we use organic fertilisers, especially the goat, cow dung and urine, which has proven to be effective in ensuring that the coffee trees are healthy and yield more, with big berries,” she says.

Fertiliser is applied at the beginning of the rainy season, at the time of flowering and when the cherries start ripening, to provide it with nutrition for uniform ripening. A well-cared for tree will give you 5kg of red cherries and 3kg of dried green (coffee beans after removing the outer covers) bean coffee.

“Because we want the best, we go as far as Karamoja (252.9km) to get goat droppings, where a 50kg bag goes for sh10,000. When we include the cost of transport, it is about sh12,000 a bag and an acre takes about 60 bags,” Nandudu says.

She says managing pests and diseases is also crucial as it ensure high quality berries.

Nandudu says she uses organic ways, especially buffer zoning (designating an area to separate two plots to prevent pests from crossing from one plot to the other) and, at times, chemicals.

Because her farm is located on the slopes of Mt Elgon, Nandudu digs terraces across the garden to catch running water, thus slowing down soil erosion and loss of fertility.

Harvesting

If one applies the best agronomic practices, the coffee will start flowering and fruiting after a year or two. Therefore, one must prepare for harvesting and post-harvest management as on many occasions, quality is lost here.

“We only hand pick the ripened red cherries and leave the green and yellow ones. This is all about ensuring quality of the final products at the cupping level,” Nandudu says.

After harvest, the cherries are hand sorted to remove any green or yellow berries, as well as the defective ones.

The good quality coffee is then crushed into a pulp using a hand pulper with a capacity of 200kg per hour, Nandudu explains.

The next stage is fermentation of the pulped coffee in a tank for 24 hours, which helps to break down the sugars and remove any unwanted flavours.

After the fermentation process is done, the coffee is washed with clean water and then dried on tarpaulins or racks. As the coffee dries, a team picks out beans with visible defects like black ones and husks.

Dried coffee should be kept in a well-ventilated store on a raised platform to prevent the harvest from absorbing moisture, which can make it sticky and compromise its quality. To be sure that coffee is well-dried, they test for moisture content using a moisture metre. The acceptable range is 13.

“The store should not have other items like onions, chemicals and pesticides. Arabica coffee absorbs all the impurities around it. For example, if you keep coffee in the same store with onions, at the time of cupping, it will smell like onions, which will lower the cup score, thus attracting low prices,” Nandudu says.

Community engagement

Nandudu says there are 253 registered coffee farmers in Sironko district. Of these, 215 are women.

The farmers are organised in groups of 10, which are trained in the best agronomic practices to ensure that they produce quality coffee and also manage their gardens to ensure profitability.

They have also established aggregation centres, where parchment coffee from individual farmers is collected and later transported to the main store at Namakwekwe, Nkoma drive, Impumude cell in Mbale city.

Last season, for example, they sold 195,600 tonnes of coffee to exporting companies like Kyagalanyi. These farmers are given inputs, especially fertilisers on credit and payment deducted during sale of harvest. At times, the inputs are given at no cost.

The farmers are also empowered with financial literacy skills and encouraged to form saving groups, which has changed their lives as they can now afford to take their children to school, cloth them and access medication.

Achievements

Nandudu is able to take care of herself and family. Also, working with farmers attracted the AVIS-Skilling in Agripreneurship for increased Youth Employment (SAY) project under the embassy of the Netherlands, after emerging the overall winner in 2023.

This is after they trained her in best coffee management and also availed her with a moisture metre, which has reduced losses from buying coffee with high moisture content.

“This training has helped me widen the business throughout the coffee value chain. For example, I came to realise that actually, money is at the level of value-addition, other than merely buying from farmers and selling to bigger companies,” Nandudu says.

With the skills she acquired, she also competed and emerged overall winner of the Rising Woman challenge organised by dfcu bank and National Social Security Fund’s Hi Innovator.

Last year, she won $20,000 (sh74m) and used some of the money to buy a modern coffee huller at sh15m.

Quality assurance Before setting the price, they have the out-turn, where they take a sample taste of 500g from each parchment bag and hull it to green beans, explains Enoth Buzaza the quality manager.

“It is then hand sorted, where the black beans are removed and grading is done ranging from premium to commercial screens. This is done to estimate the quality of the coffee so that we do not pay less or more than what can be gotten from the coffee by the final buyer,” he says.

“Coffee that is managed well throughout the steps of production, right from planting, plantation management, harvest and post-harvest management, should score 83% and above, which is premium coffee going for sh10,000 a kilogramme of green beans,” Buzaza adds.

The poorly managed coffee will be bought as a commercial coffee earning farmers low prices of about sh7,000 a kilogramme of parchment coffee. Value-addition At this stage, coffee is taken through quality checks, including for moisture content, defect count and out-turn.

Here, a sample of 500g is taken from each bag using a coffee sample huller that removes the outer cover and then the green bean is sorted according to the grades (premium to ordinary coffee).

After getting the green beans, it is taken to the roaster, where a kilogramme is roasted at sh3,000. After grinding, the roasted coffee, it is packaged in packs of 50g going for sh5,000 to 1kg that goes for sh40,000.

“For now, we are selling our coffee in a few supermarkets, coffee shops, restaurants, retail shops, especially in the Mbale and Kampala,” Nandudu says.

She also sells to individuals through social media platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram. Book keeping Nandudu says book keeping is key for a business, so she has an operations office where all the documentation is done.

“We opened up an account in dfcu bank, where all the money from sales is deposited, but also, whatever is to be spent must be withdrawn. This is to make financial tracking and book keeping easy,” she says.

Plans

In the next three years, Nandudu is optimistic that she will be exporting, which will increase income and also create more jobs for young mothers and youths.

Challenges

Nandudu says the biggest challenge is not having the Q-mark certification from the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, which limits them from other bigger markets.

However, they have began the process to acquire one. The other challenge is equipment, especially the roaster, which is costly.

However, they are planning on buying the machinery from company savings. They also have challenges with roads that are in poor condition, making transportation costly.

Employees

Bayaaya employs 35 women, who hand sort the coffee. They are paid sh6,000 per sack and given lunch. There are also five male youths, who help with loading and unloading coffee, they are paid sh1,000 per bag lifted.

What others say

Mary Nagisi, farmer from Bumasifwa sub-county Since I started working with Bayaaya, I have realised that with best practices, one can get better harvests, which in turn increases earnings from my coffee.

Julius Kissa, farmer Bugiboni sub-county From the training organised by Bayaaya, I have improved the post-harvest handling techniques at my farm, which has increased the prices my coffee fetches.

Rebbeca Nadunga, Bugiboni sub-county Apart from increasing my incomes, working with Bayaaya has helped me learn financial management, especially saving and spending habits, which has improved my living conditions.

LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: Nandudu at work with her employees.

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