Coffee is a crop grown by the patient. It is not like vegetables, grain, or legumes that take a few months to harvest.
Many young people, eager to make quick money, choose to grow crops that take a short time to harvest. Yet coffee farming would be a good form of employment for thousands of youths, writes Michael J Ssali.
The National Union of Coffee Agri-business and Farmers Enterprises (NUCAFE) has conducted a study to find out what contribution youth involvement in coffee farming would make to increase Uganda’s annual export of the crop to twenty million bags by 2020.
One of the reasons the youths shun coffee farming is that it takes quite long to pay since the coffee trees begin fruition after two or three years.
I visited a few youths that have taken up coffee growing to find out how they made it. The common observation is that the majority started by intercropping coffee with quicker-paying crops like vegetables, maize and groundnuts before earning money from coffee.
The idea, as explained by Mike Mawanda, 28, of Butale B village in Kabonera sub-county, Masaka district, is that crops like vegetables provide an alternative enterprise for regular income as the young farmer waits for the coffee to begin paying.
“When I gave up my taxi conductor job in Kampala, I bought two young local bulls which I fattened and sold in order to buy the Friesian cow that we now keep,” he said.
“I underwent some training in farming by a Catholic Church NGO known as Kitovu Mobile where we were taught the advantages of coffee growing and how to use cow dung manure to enhance crop production. My wife and I planted cloned Robusta coffee but at the same time we started growing tomatoes, onions, nakati, cabbages and carrots right in the same garden. The vegetables gave us regular income but later harvesting coffee earned us big sums of money in lump form, which has enabled us now to build a new house.”
Mike lost his parents during infancy and he was raised by his uncle. Luckily, he inherited his parent’s piece of land of about three acres where the young family now conducts successful farming. After about three years as vegetable farmers, the two started harvesting coffee.
“We went for cloned Robusta coffee which we had been told was high-yielding and fast-growing,” he revealed. “We knew it would take us about three years before obtaining big harvests but it was not hard to wait since we were growing vegetables.”
At the time of writing this story, Mike and Pauline were supervising the construction of their brick house. They make composite manure which they apply on coffee that is intercropped with bananas.
To further diversify their income, the couple also stocks beehives in different parts of the farm from which they regularly harvest honey for sale between the coffee harvesting seasons.
William Letaba, 26, of Butale B village, Kabonera sub-county, Masaka district embarked on coffee farming about two years ago after many years of growing vegetables, pineapples and keeping two Friesian cows. “I can now comfortably wait for the coffee to begin fruition since I have income from milk, vegetables, and pineapples,” he said.
At Lwemikoma village, Kirumba sub-county, in Kyotera district, four hardworking brothers are determined to succeed as coffee farmers. When their parents died, they left them about four acres of land and, contrary to common practice which is to share the land by dividing it up into smaller pieces; they chose to use it together as a family.
“When we unite as a team, we are stronger and we benefit more,” Zachary Ssegawa told The Observer. “If we had chosen to share it up, we would each have small gardens and as individuals we would most probably not have the needed capital to carry out gainful farming. As brothers, we agreed to join hands, to struggle together and to share the profits the best way we can.”
His brothers are John Lozio, Lawrence Muwanguzi, and Peter Ssentongo. They began by planting cloned coffee and intercropping it with green pepper, beans, maize, tomatoes, pumpkins and passion fruit.
“Some of the income from vegetables and fruits was used to buy fuel for our water pumps,” Ssentogo revealed.
One of their biggest achievements so far is to purchase an irrigation system comprising of two water pumps, two long hoses, and tarpaulins. Their farm is close to Kyoja swamp from which they pump water during the dry season.
One pump pushes the water from the swamp through a hose into a pool (big hole fitted with tarpaulin) in their garden up the hill and another pump drives the water from the hole through another hose which they direct whichever side of the garden they want the water to go.
Joshua Sseremba, 29, of Ttagga village, Kingo sub-county in Lwengo district, complained of poor-quality seedlings given to the farmers by government as one of the hindrances to successful coffee farming.
“The so-called ‘elite’ variety supplied takes long to reach fruition and it is not high-yielding and it is susceptible to the coffee wilt disease,” he said.
“Yet we are aware that good varieties are produced at the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI). Why do we get this very poor variety? It takes a lot of hard work and money to nurture a coffee tree only to realize after about three years that the coffee trees are not high yielding and are of poor quality.”