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Busoga Coffee Quality Improves

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Tom Gwebayanga

When the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) rolled out a ban that restricted irregular coffee harvesting and processing in Busoga region, all stakeholders were bitter, complaining that the operations are tantamount to killing their business.

Dubbed as “The Quality enforcement,” the four— month’s ban that prevailed between September and December last year, featured barring farmers from harvesting half-ripe and raw berries, as well as fermenting and drying the cherries on bare ground.

The UCDA insisted that the irregular harvests had compromised the quantity and quality of Busoga’s processed coffee (kase), featuring black and bad coloured berries, which birthed slashed kase prices in both local and international markets.

Due to Busoga’s poor coffee quality, even when it was taken to Kampala markets, one would easily identify it as being Busoga origin, by virtue of the high percentage of black and multi-coloured beans.

“In fact, Busoga’s bad coffee record had hit heights,” Dr George Fredrick Kabbale, the district production officer for Buyende, said.

Supported by the Police, the swoops netted scores of farmers, who had breached the regulations and detained them in Kamuli Central Police Station cells.

To scare many from practicing the vice, the confiscated, non-recommended berries were burnt or dumped at garbage sites and some in swamps and wetlands.

The UCDA also hired and deployed secret monitors to do surveillance. Through this, the farmers were allowed to harvest only the red cherries and not neglect the yellowish and green ones.

The bad harvesting practice of stripping (okuwulula), where the red, yellow and young berries alike are pulled off was outlawed, with technocrats insisting that the method ruptures the terminal buds of the next generation.

In the process, all transactions of small, bulky traders and the middlemen, who ply the village paths with portable weighing scales (Ab’obumizaani), were banned.

All processing mills were closed, supported by the “secret” collaborators, who were deployed by authority to locate the noncompliant farmers and traders in order to improve the riddled quantity and quality.

Bittersweet

Moses Mpasa, a farmer in Mukokotokwa village, Mbulamutu sub—county in Kamuli district, said the operations were at first painful, but yielded sweet fruits.

“The bad coffee was confiscated and burnt and some farmers arrested,” Mpasa said, recalling the incident where a noncompliant farmer lost close to 800kg of fermented berries.

“We harvested our coffee, resulting in scarcity and seasonal poverty, because the buyers had been restricted. However, we enjoyed sweet cash after lifting the ban,” he said.

In addition, Mpasa said they would roast the berries to dupe buyers to assume they are original.

“This also compromised the quality of kase featuring black beans,” he added.

Michael Baguma, the UCDA extension officer for Kamuli and Buyende districts, said: “By close of the ban in December, clean beans were visible and the price appreciated to the current sh10,400 from sh6,500 and sh7,000 per kilo.”

As of now, Baguma said the quality of kase has improved and is devoid of black berries. Quality has improved and now stands at 85%, as opposed to the past were it was at 35%.

Jackson Owundo, the Busoga region farmers’ spokesperson, said the intervention was intended to create awareness that the best way farmers can get more money from their sweat is by processing.

This is opposed to the past where small and medium traders (middlemen) would buy the coffee, process, sell and get more money than the farmers who do donkey work.

Owundo said the turnout tonnage for the outgoing season is now far better than it was in the previous season and the farmers are realising reasonable prices.

In Balawoli sub-county, Baguma said, one farmer bagged sh74m from two tonnes in a single season, while in Kavule village, Namasagali sub-county, a farmer told the UCDA team that due to quality enforcement, he bagged sh26m from one and a half acres.

In Kamuli Industrial Area, the coffee processing home in Kamuli district, the bulky traders, who are renowned as the perpetrators of the vice, heaped praises on the ban.

‘The intervention was timely. We now have quality beans and the prices have appreciated to sh10,400, as opposed to last year’s sh7,500,” Michael Kinoba, the chairperson of Kamuli Coffee Farmers and Processors Association (KCOFPA), said.

Kinoba added that in a single day, between 3,000 and 4,000 tonnes are processed per day in Kamuli Industrials Area, as opposed to the past where 1,300 and 2,000 tonnes featured per day.

Baguma also agrees with Kinoba, saying as of now, one can process a single 100kg bag of dried (kibooko) coffee and get close to 80kg, as opposed to the past where one would get only 35kg and 65% being husks.

Jackson Owundo, the Busoga region coffee farmers’ spokesperson, said due to the refined quality, bulky traders are now yielding between sh13,400 and sh14,000 per kilogramme in Kampala. This has been achieved because the farmers heed the rules and regulations.

Achieving success

Owundo said quality enforcement was executed to improve coffee quantity and quality in a bid to resurrect the diminished local and international markets.

“Busoga’s coffee was the worst in the country. We wanted farmers to get value for their sweat. The money is theirs and UCDA demands no shares from it,” he said.

In the process, the Police was involved in the operations where scores of those who breached the regulations were detained in Kamuli Central Police Station cells, while others were taken to court and fined.

Mpasa heaped praise on the operations, saying the infamous challenge of coffee thefts by the youth at night, also reduced by 75%.

He commended UCDA for the tremendous role in sensitising masses on the consequences of bad harvesting methods. Mpasa said farmers’ compliance also played a role in contributing to the success of the operations.

Baguma, however, noted that the intervention will improve in fast tracking of the value addition chain from the farmer level to the exporter.

Statistics indicate that coffee as Uganda’s main cash crop is the nation’s leading export in East and Central Africa.

Challenges

Jackson Owundo, the Busoga region coffee farmers’ spokesperson, said the first challenge is the farmers’ poor mindset who repeatedly stick to the old fashioned methods of harvesting coffee, coupled with life threatening statements to UCDA officials.

In some scenarios, the farmers adulterate coffee by burying the green berries in holes to ferment, while others simply burn them to dupe traders and dry the coffee on bare ground, compromising quality.

The pests and diseases are also big challenges. Michael Baguma, the UCDA extension officer for Kamuli and Buyende districts, named the black steak borers that attack the coffee barks, especially during rainy seasons, leaving hazardous mucus that forms tiny holes.

The other challenge is the red blister disease, which dries the branches and the berries alike.

Baguma said the disease is a sign of soil nutrients extortion, while the black steak borers usually attack coffee in crowded shamba.

Solutions

The UCDA is broadening sensitisation through stakeholders so that quantity and quality is maintained.

Farmers groups have also been formed to fast-track the noncompliant individuals, as well as media trainings on mitigating pests and diseases.

On the red blister disease, UCDA is using media platforms to sensitise farmers on how to improve soil fertility using organic manure and artificial fertilisers, such as NPK.

Baguma noted that in order to tackle the black steak borers, farmers are being sensitised on how to rid their shambas of vulnerable trees and replace them with Mutuba, Musita, Mukunyu and Mukoko, which have slippery barks that the borers can’t easily puncture.

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