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Coffee Farming: Here is How To Hit the Jack Pot!

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Through further research, the average number of trees per acre are planned to be raised from 450 at the moment to around 900 or even more.

“Some of the leading coffee growing countries are doing it and yielding much higher than us,” Joseph Nkandu, a coffee farmer and farmer trainer says. This will obviously increase yields per acre.

Nkandu explains that this can only be achieved if among others, farmers used fertilisers and improved seedlings. “If farmers use fertilizers, then they can plant more seedlings per acre,” he says.

In places like Mpigi, which is one of the leading producers of coffee in the central region, the aroma has been reignited among the population.

“Many farmers had given up on growing coffee because it had become difficult to get good seedlings. The Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) programme improved the distribution of seedlings, which we planted and now we are harvesting from them,” Godfrey Kiraga, from Kamengo.  Patrick Sserwadda, the Mpigi district production officer pointed ou, adding that coffee farmers are also now being trained in better practices, aimed at increasing production.

“They, for example, do not allow the trees to grow so tall. They cut off the topmost tip in what is called ‘tree capping’,” he says. Once the tree is capped, it expands in width and grows more branches, hence producing more coffee. Improved yields will ensure that even if a farmer practices on a small piece of land, he will get good money.

Farmers are also advised to desist from selling coffee at the ‘flowering’ stage. This is locally called Okutunda akamuli’ literary translated as ‘selling the flower’.

“This leads to big losses not just for the farmer, but also for the entire coffee industry,” Sserwadda says. He explains that the buyer, who is a middleman, harvests the coffee at the earliest opportunity because he is scared that the seller may sell it off to another person. In the process, that coffee is harvested before it is mature.

Post-harvest handling key

Information from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) shows that as of 2019, there were 49 exporters, 21 export grading plants, 454 processing factories, 22 washing stations, 16 roasters and 506 (buying) stores were set up in the past financial year. The number of seedlings planted increased from 12.7 million in 2011 to 93 million in 2015. The National Coffee Research Institute has developed seven coffee wilt disease-resistant planting materials.

One of the biggest challenges facing coffee today is poor harvesting. Farmers harvest immature coffee and mix it with mature coffee,” Edward Ssentamu Lutakoome says. Ssentamu is the UCDA regional manager for the Central region.

Ssentamu explains that during harvesting, most farmers simply kuwulula, just like Nsubuga`s children and yet, coffee should be ‘picked’. “You only pick off the ripe bean and leave the rest,” he advises. Mature coffee beans are cherry-red. 

  • Avoid picking immature coffee. When picking coffee, carefully pick only the mature red beans leaving the green ones on the tree to ripen further. Always pick, do not strip. Understand that when you pick immature coffee, you lose on two sides. On one side, you lose at least 30% of the weight you would have got if you harvested them when mature, since immature coffee weighs less. On the other hand, you also lose customers if they discover that you harvest immature coffee.
  • Do not let coffee beans drop on the ground during harvesting. Tarpaulin or other soft sheets must be spread on the ground below the coffee tree to avoid coffee beans from directly dropping to the ground. The sheets will also ensure proper collection of all the beans and will minimize contamination of the beans.  If they drop on the bare ground, the beans should be collected carefully.
  • Be selective when picking coffee. Remove all inferior or green beans, leaves, twigs and foreign matter from harvested beans. Pick regularly, every 2 weeks, to get good yields and better quality.

Value low addition at farm level

The domestic coffee consumption, according to UCDA, is less than 3% of the crop produced in the country, including the one exported and brought back to Uganda (imports) after processing it. An estimated 236,400 bags of coffee were consumed in Uganda in 2016, an increase from 229,200 bags in 2015, which showed an increase of around 40,000bags and 244,800 in 2018. There is hope that the growth in domestic consumption trends will go on towards 2040.

“Our coffee per capita consumption per year is now over 0.36kgs. We need to raise it to 0.5kgs in the next five years,” Henry Ngabirano, the former executive director, UCDA says.

“In the last six years, value added coffee imports increased by 519%, an indication that there is demand for coffee in Uganda,” he adds. This is certainly positive. However, there is need to improve value addition if farmers are to earn more money.

According to Abdallah Mangalji, who has over 360 acres of coffee in Kabarole, low levels of value addition across the country are a form of poor harvest handling.

“This only happens in Uganda. In other top coffee growing countries, every farmer makes it a point to add value, however small it may be,” he says.

Mangalji says just pulping coffee and selling it as kase (parchment) improves earnings by over 40%. For example, while a kilogramme of un pulped robusta goes for sh2,500, pulped robust goes for sh7,000. Because you need one and half kgs (sh5000) to get a kilogramme of parchment it means that a farmer gets an additional sh2,000.

“Our farm strives to produce coffee of the best quality,” says Mangalji, but just like other farmers, the process is not good enough. Soon after harvesting, the coffee is tested for quality, by putting it in a half drum full of water. It can be any big container depending on the amount of coffee that one has. “

All the coffee that sinks is good coffee and the coffee that floats is not of good quality,” he says. The floaters as they are called are removed, while the good coffee is taken to a pulping machine.

Mangalji acquired a machine that pulps fresh coffee and removes the skin, before it is dried up. The coffee is dried on standard raised beds. There is a very elaborate coffee drying process at the farm. “Because we are in an area that is colder, coffee takes much longer to dry up,” Mangalji says. He says because of this, he needs a solar dryer that can do the drying in a few days.

He wonders why ‘our black gold’ is exported to outside countries, processed and then brought back to be sold to us.

“What do those people in America do that we cannot do here so that we sell our coffee as a finished commodity?” Mangalji says. Processing coffee into a consumable requires roasting and then packaging. Mangalji says this is what they must strive to do.

Anthony Welishe, another coffee farmer in Bulambuli bought his at sh350,000.  For Welishe, pulping gives him two advantages. The first is that the value of his coffee bean rises by at least sh3,000 from
sh2,500 to sh7,000, while the other is that he gets the husks and uses them as manure on the farm.

“I bought my coffee pulper at sh350,000 from Katwe,” he says. Welishe says this is not expensive at all and farmers, even those with one acre can afford it.

“If a farmer has one acre from which he earns at least sh4m per year, why not make a one off purchase of this pulper?” Welishe says. Grading

The real implications of poor pos-tharvest handling are seen at the grading stage, when good quality coffee is separated from poor quality coffee.

 Ssentamu says coffee is graded in different ways, however, the best grade is 18 and above.

“There are several ways through which coffee is graded,” he says. He says they use the colour and smell of the green coffee to give an indication of the botanical species, age of the crop, husbandry, handling and processing conditions.

“The sizes of coffee beans range in descending order from screen 18, screen 15 screen 12 screen 11.9 and BHP (broken half pieces). The bigger the size, the higher the quality of the coffee. For example, if your coffee is screen 25, then that has a higher quality compared to screen 12,” he says. 

Ssentamu explains that the bean size is a product of the botanical species, age of the crop and husbandry level. The bean size and weight also determines the out-turn at processing level.

“If a farmer selected the right variety, nurtured it well and harvested only mature, ripe beans, then he is likely to get a higher grading, which also fetches more money,” he says.

The amount of moisture is measured by a moisture meter which is calibrated in percentages. Moisture meters can be bought from shops at as low as sh50,000. The moisture content is a function of drying, storage and transportation conditions. This is when farmers who never properly dry their coffee realise their folly.

“If the coffee beans are stored when they are not properly dried up, that also affects the final flavor of the product,” Ssentamu says.

Defects count system is a useful means of assessing the quality of green beans since defects most often impart undesirable flavor. The defects count is a function of husbandry (e.g. Pest and disease control) and processing conditions. Coffee exporting dealers spend a lot of money hiring casual workers to manually pick out defective beans, before they are packed.

“We have received coffee mixed with stones here. Or coffee that has got a lot of broken beans,” Amos Kisigi, the vice-chairman of the Uganda Coffee Traders and Processors Association, says.

The final grading involves the liquor content of the product. The liquor content is determined by carrying out cup-tasting.  The liquor quality is a function of the coffee variety and crop husbandry, especially soil management.

 “Coffeefrom different regions of the country and world has a different taste and aroma. So to determine where a particular brand came from, a liquor taste is carried out,” Ssentamu says.

Storage to improve

Coffee is packed in standard sacks of 60kg, before it is stored. According to UCDA, coffee must be stored in a well-aerated, covered area, once it is dried up properly. It should not have water leaking through it too.

“If you store your coffee is a leaking shelter, then it will get mouldy and loose the flavor,” Ssentamu says.

Big buyers have got big stores for storing coffee. However, by the time it reaches their stores, it has passed through several other smaller stores, starting right from the first producer, the farmer.

“It is not expensive to create a good storage facility for your coffee at home,” Ssentamu advises.

All you need is the space, depending on the volumes that you harvest, plus the sacks to put it in. The floor of the storage facility must be free of any other contaminating elements like soil and stones too. 

In some instances, farmers store coffee in the same shelters with animals. This is bad because it affects quality. Coffee dealers have received coffee beans mixed with goats’ droppings.

“Do not keep coffee in houses shared by animals because they will contaminate the beans,” Kisigi says.

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