It’s 4am. Many people in Mityana, Uganda are still in deep sleep. Many people, that is, except Simon Genza a young and enthusiastic coffee farmer. It is harvesting season and there is a lot to do. After saying his prayers and freshening up he revises his notes on agriculture. He does this because he is a contact farmer meaning he trains over 90 other coffee farmers in his community on good agricultural practices (GAP).  

After this at around 6am, Simon makes himself a cup of dry tea and sips it while listens to the chirping birds and taking in the fresh air. Although he is a coffee producer, Simon only drinks his coffee once in a while. This is common in Uganda where local coffee consumption is at about 3% (Uganda Coffee Development Authority). The reasons for this range from coffee being viewed as strictly for selling and speculation that coffee has negative health effects. However, as a result of the Government’s directive within the National Coffee Roadmap, many strategies have been put in place to increase consumption by Ugandans. So occasionally, Simon drinks his coffee to ensure that it is of the highest quality.

Simon’s quality coffee cherries.

After a small breakfast, Simon quickly feeds his pigs and cleans their sty while contemplating his program for the day. This usually depends on what season of coffee it is. During harvest season, the cherries are scarlet red and ripe for the picking. So, after the morning dew has evaporated, Simon heads to his coffee farm to begin the hard labor of collecting and weeding his coffee. His farm has about 516 coffee trees on land which belongs to Simon’s grandmother. She portioned 1.25 acres of the land to Simon so he can grow coffee and intercrop with beans and maize. For generations, Simon’s family has produced coffee for income as well as various other crops for food.

It was somewhat inevitable that Simon would also become a farmer. He was well exposed to agriculture from a young age, and fondly recalls playing in his family’s farm under the guise of helping his mother dig for potatoes and cassava. Though, it was only in the year 2010, when Simon began taking coffee farming seriously. It took a fall from an old coffee branch to awaken him to the art of professional coffee farming. “I broke my hand and my friend told me that it was because my grandmother’s trees were too old and needed stumping,” he says. After this incident, his friend convinced him to attend a Farmer Field School (FFS) conducted by Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) under the International Coffee Partners (ICP) project.

“Before joining the ICP project, I was using a poor method of stripping and would pick green, red, black and infected cherries. But now, I go with the purpose of picking only red cherries,” Simon explains.

From the FFS, Simon has learned how to improve his primary processing methods and various agricultural practices such as mulching, pruning, stumping, trenching, fertilizer application and pest and disease control. Through the ICP project, Simon and fellow farmers in his community were also supported to develop professional cooperatives which work as service providers to their members. Simon quickly became a leader in his cooperative and actively participates in training and extension. Between 2005 and now, ICP has established approximately 58 cooperatives across Uganda and supported projects reaching over 38,000 smallholder farming households.  

Simon teaching a fellow farmer the correct technique for fertilizer application.

Simon demonstrating how he dries his coffee on tarpaulin.

Since he joined the ICP project, Simon has become quite experienced at coffee farming and picks the cherries at an impressive rate. Between 9am and noon he has already filled three jerricans (approx. 60kg) with coffee and is well deserving of his grandmother’s cooking. After lunch he has a rest before going back to the field to pick an additional two jerricans (40kg) of coffee for another three hours.

Simon’s profits from coffee have increased because he produces better quality coffee and can avoid the middleman. Membership in his cooperative has enabled him and his fellow farmers to market their coffee directly to exporters as well as other benefits such as; access to genuine agricultural inputs and funding through their Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA).

A female farmer receiving a loan from her cooperative during a VSLA session.

There is however still more work that needs to be done to increase the participation of other youth like Simon in farming. Many young people don’t have access to land and parents are reluctant to give them a portion of land because they are worried that they would rather sell it than cultivate it. Additionally, climate change poses a threat to coffee production and the livelihoods of farmers. As temperatures rise and seasons become increasingly unreliable, farmers face a reduction in their yields as well as the quality of their coffee. Incidents of pests and diseases are also becoming more rampant. Furthermore, female farmers find it difficult to participate in GAP trainings and farmer organizations due to existing gender inequalities and their heavy workloads. The need to scale up youth, climate change and gender interventions particularly through an extensionist approach is therefore urgent.

“I am passionate about training other farmers because I want to make sure they also become experts and can continue expansion,” says Simon.

He takes pride in his role as a contact farmer and has become an integral part of his farmer organization. He is responsible for about 90 young farmers (3 groups of 30 members) and every fortnight, facilitates a meeting with one of the groups to impart his knowledge. He uses his farm as a demonstration and encourages other farmers to practically showcase their findings and improvements. He also shares theoretical knowledge on GAPs and inspires skeptical youth to give agriculture a try.

Simon teaching young farmers from his cooperative the correct spacing for planting improved coffee varieties.

Although he is very regimented and disciplined, once 5pm hits, Simon’s serious disposition is disarmed by his friends at the local hot-spot. There, his competitive nature is put on display over a few games of Ludo and he takes the opportunity to engage in playful banter with his buddies. After the six hours he spent toiling in the blazing African sun, he has earned this part of his day and since he is still a single man, he has the luxury of spending the whole evening there if he pleases. At around 10pm though, he calls it a day and blissfully heads to bed before awakening at 4am the following day to start the whole process over again.