The birds start singing early in the morning on the mountain side of the great Rwenzori Mountain Range in Uganda. Kambere (60), a coffee farmer, starts his 13 hour work day at 6 am but not before greeting his family before starting on his 1-kilometer trek down to the farm. Kambere attends to the animals before trekking to the 2-hectare coffee plantation downhill. While at the coffee farm, Kambere checks the coffee plants before tending to his garden.
It is currently fly crop season, (smaller crop of coffee that happens in specific coffee regions in addition to the main harvest), as they wait for the rains to begin harvesting coffee trees heavy with green cherries. In the Rwenzori Mountain Region, they specialize in Arabica varieties which grow on average 2 meters high by 2 meters wide depending on the type of blend. Kambere works on expanding the farm after he used to see his father working hard as a commercial coffee farmer where he attained starting capital for a lucrative business in his local town.
Kambere says, “We worked very hard on the farm in the far east of the district where we settled. We would experience better yields on the farm and finally started a lucrative business in the district town from the money we made from coffee. I began admiring the business side of things after helping my father run the business.”
Kambere tried running the business after school but after several years realized he needed to set up a new farm but had no idea where, to begin with, the farm his family currently had. Unfortunately, he was also facing many challenges including pests, small cherry development, and harsh weather conditions but had no idea where, to begin with, the farm his family owned. In 2012, after becoming a participant in a program put on by International Coffee Partners (ICP) and implemented by Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), he began expanding a new area growing coffee with the little knowledge he had learned.
The project organized Kambere into manageable groups which were trained in good agricultural practices, management styles, enhancing coffee quality, and improved practices for bringing their coffee to market. They established a two-tier organization to act as a transparent and professional service provider to the farmers. Through this newly established farmer organization, the prices are negotiated at an open table.
Kambere, standing next to his five-year-old coffee trees stresses the advantages of mulching which he learned from training as the best method to suppress weeds and help keep the soil moist. Eager to start harvesting his fly crop, Kambere uses the wet processing process as he feels it produces better quality coffee which fetches good prices.
“I am seeing a bright future, my coffee has started paying me, and all my children are in private schools and I am no longer paying school fees. I see my youngest son taking on this vision ahead of Kambere based on discussions we have had as a family. He works hard on the farm with his wife and children joining him clearing away weeds allowing for new coffee trees to be planted within the next year.” says Kambere.
As noon approaches, the sun continues to be strong which pays a toll on coffee farmers including Kambere. Around 1 pm Kambere joins the rest of his family for lunch as they sit around the table to enjoy a meal of rice, posho and beans. They also enjoy their staple food of mingled cassava flour with beef or fish which they enjoy at dinner. After lunch, Kambere speaks with his children as he shares his learnings of coffee farming and sharing ideas in farming methods. He still looks forward to the day when he can begin roasting locally at home for self-consumption.
Once the heat of the day subsides around 4 pm, they all head down to the farm to closely monitor the flowering coffee trees. Kambere pulls out his notebook and tells his son what is expected during flowering and weather coffee has pests affecting it. They agree to organize and have desuckering exercise before they begin harvesting the “bumper” crop.
“My notes from the training of ICP remind me a lot of what to do during the coffee calendar year,” Kambere says.
Coffee is a paying crop that stays for many years which gives peace of mind to Kambere that his children will be taken care of even after he is gone. He mentions that ICP has made him realize dreams of overcoming poverty with valuable training in coffee at the farmer level, having farmer organizations for proper marketing.
“I have taken on the training to all members of the whole district to increase coffee farming for all of us to realize good results as an organization. However, we are looking at a challenge for land fragmentation as a hindering factor. Awareness is still needed to help slow learners take in these good ideas they learn.” Kambere says.
Like many coffee farmers, the day comes to an end in the evening when dinner is prepared, the sun is setting and the family rejoins. With stories of the day’s work and laughter in the air the sun sets as another day in the life of a coffee farmer comes to a close.