For many, Uganda might not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking of high-quality Arabica coffee, especially since the country has been traditionally known as a producer of Robusta. The country has the ideal climate and geography for coffee production, yet producers do face various infrastructure challenges. The slopes of Mt. Elgon in the East (bordering Kenya) are ideally suited for the production of high-quality specialty coffee.
Sir Winston Churchill first described Uganda as the ‘Pearl of Africa’, while admiring its “magnificent variety of form and colour, profusion of brilliant life and its vast scale.” Benefiting from a bi-modal rainfall season and high altitudes, the country has a pleasant climate year-round and is lush with greenery. The mountain ranges to the east and west are home to Uganda’s Arabica farmers; Robusta is produced on the central plateau.
The Rwenzoris are a mountain range famously known as the ‘Mountains of the Moon.’ They stretch for 120 kilometres along the Western Uganda border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The snow-capped peaks reach over 5,000 metres above sea level and support glaciers that are the start of many rivers flowing down the slopes (including one source of the Nile). The slopes of this range are where the government of Uganda is promoting coffee production as a key driver for rural development.
The District of Kasese is located in the West, which includes the Rwenzoris in the northwest. This region is rich with coffee production thanks to the high altitudes and healthy soils. Kyarumba is a town located deep within the Rwenzoris and acts as a hub for the other communities within the mountains because of its large size. There are five mountain ledges in this community, leading up to the National Park. Smallholder producers here are organized into producer organization (PO) groups, and there are about 50 in Kyarumba. There are also five Agri Partners situated here, who purchase the cherry during harvest, and assist producers with agronomic advice in between harvests.
Producers here generally grow coffee on 1 hectare or less of land and grown beans and potatoes for consumption or to sell at local markets. Coffee, however, is a main cash crop here, with harvests occurring year-round. Yet, the rugged terrain makes it difficult for producers to deliver cherry to the town centre. In some cases, producers will pick unripe cherries to increase income and prevent a dangerous journey. This is not ideal for coffee quality, but these occurrences are reducing as producers learn about the benefits of selling ripe cherries to Agri Partners.
During the harvest, each producer will handpick their cherries and deliver to one of the Kyarumba buyers. The cherries are then transported to the Agri Evolve wet mill where they are submerged in water to remove floaters and sorted. The sorted cherries are then placed on raised drying racks to dry in the open sun for roughly two weeks. The cherries are frequently turned to ensure an even drying occurs. The dried cherries are then delivered to the dry mill, hulled, and prepared for export.
Agri Evolve have truly changed coffee in Uganda. Since 2018, they have been assisting producers primarily in the Rwenzori region with agronomic advice, marketing, maximizing income, and improving quality. Over the past five years, Agri Evolve now work with over 15,000 producers in Uganda. With their support, producers are becoming more aware of environmental challenges, and they have launched their ACE2030 initiative. This project has goals of solidifying the connection between agriculture, community, and the environment.
Native trees are being planted alongside coffee, energy saving stoves have been installed, and waste/recycling facilities have been introduced. The ten-year plan is already having a significant impact on the coffee-producing communities. Mulch is used as organic fertilizer, and trenches are being dug on farms situated on steep slopes to protect soil health. Additionally, nursery beds are maintained, and saplings dispersed to improve the health of the trees on each producer’s farm. There is a field team of 21 locals who are out in the field visiting producers.
A database also records all of the information for each producer during the harvest. This allows Agri Evolve to track how producers are improving or what needs to be done to assist better. All of these efforts are vital especially in light of climate change – heavier rains and warmer temperatures will make coffee production and transporting coffee more difficult.
The future of coffee in Uganda is bright thanks to Agri Evolve. Projects are being formulated to help with safe drinking water, financial literacy, and school sanitary education. Radio shows even feature talks about coffee production. The community is thriving thanks to improved coffee production and Agri Evolve.