Gospel music is playing in the background while Viola sits in the families’ living room and slowly pours water into cups filled with ground coffee. After a few minutes of stirring the coffee is ready to be served. Viola tells that the coffee comes directly from the families’ coffee field: “After harvesting, we dry and process the coffee so that I can roast some of it myself and use it for the families’ consumption.” She hands over one of the cups to her husband Richard, who takes a sip and starts smiling, delighted from the result.

Richard Mukasa is a very modest man, who is grateful for his work as a coffee farmer. Although he only owns a small parcel of land of about 1.6 hectares, Richard is proud of his plot. His field is located about half an hour drive southeast of Masaka, a medium-sized town with a population of approximately 100.000 in the Central Region of Uganda just west of the famous Lake Victoria. Reachable by driving a bumpy gravy road, his plot appears in the middle of a very hilly and green area.

Since 2012 International Coffee Partners (ICP) is working in Uganda to improve the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farming families.

Richard had joined the ICP project three years ago when he joined the local Producer Organization (PO) in Nabugabo. Since then many things happened. Nonetheless, while walking into his field, Richard tells that he was not always a coffee farmer. “Before coffee farming, I owned a shop for bicycle spares.” However, he noticed that this kind of life would not sustain his families living condition. Moreover, as a married father of six children, Richard was concerned about how to finance the education of his children. “Taking into account the favorable conditions for agriculture, and coffee production, in particular, I decided to return to the village to embark on coffee farming” states Richard.

Planting coffee did not start as good as expected. “In the beginning coffee farming as a business started slowly.” Among other things, this was due to the low prices he received for his coffee. Moreover, unfavorable weather events for coffee production and the usage of outdated farming practices led to low productivity and low quality of yields.

It was not until he joined the PO in Nabugabo when business enhanced. POs are village-based groups, bringing together approximately between 20 and 30 farmers. “When I joined the local PO I was lucky because they are working closely with International Coffee Partners’ project, through which we receive training in financial literacy and agricultural techniques.” By now, Richard is the contact farmer of the PO. This means that he receives training from extension agents from Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), the implementing partner of ICP, where he learns about good agricultural practices, processing of coffee and how to market it. “My responsibilities are to attend trainings and then teach my fellow group members in our coffee business. Also, I´m responsible for collecting coffee from my neighbors and other members of the PO so that we can deliver it to the Depot Committee in Bukule”, explains Richard.

Depot Committees (DCs) represent registered companies that encompass up to 600 farmers, formed out of 20 to 30 Producer Organizations. Their primary purpose is to bulk coffee and sell it directly to exporters. Based on the higher volume the DC, and in further consequence the farmers of the POs, receive better prices for their yields. Richard, who has profited from the organizational structure of his PO further states: “Since ICP has been working with us in the PO, we have gained access to better market prices.”

Richard tells that when he is not in the field working, he loves spending time home together with his family, playing with his children. It becomes clear that Viola plays an essential part in both his private and his work life. “My wife is very helpful in all our activities of coffee farming. Our goal is to work together as a family so that we can accomplish more” says Richard. Viola herself is more of a calm and hesitant person, who is proud of her family. “I love my family very much. We are hardworking people. This is why we have achieved so much, and our children can go to school”, states Viola.

As Richard walks through his field, he starts picking various fruits, such as oranges and papayas. “Based on the higher income through enhanced productivity and better prices for my coffee, we were able to save money, which we could invest in the planting of various fruit trees”. Also, he used the savings to build a pigsty and start a piggery project. These investments do not only increase the food security of the family but also can function as a side income. Both fruits and pork can be sold on the local market. This is of particular importance in case of coffee crop failure, due to weather changes or pests and diseases.

Richard points on some withered plants and explains: “Some of the problems we face during coffee farming are the changing weather conditions, such as unpredictable rainfall projections or prolonged droughts. However, through the pieces of training, Richard already learned how to address some of these problems effectively. For example, the use of cover crops to lower soil erosion or the implementation of water tranches for water conversation. Further challenges that he is facing are the unstable coffee prices due to the global market price volatility of coffee, as well as high prices for pesticides to tackle pests.”

Based on the higher incomes of coffee farming, Richard tells that he was able to enlarge his coffee farm and even bought other plots of lands, which he is planning to cultivate soon. He further states: “The joint partnership with the ICP project was beneficial to me and I´m grateful for what I´ve been able to achieve as a coffee farmer. Therefore, I urge people to take up coffee farming as a business, because I can say that it is enriching. Not only for myself, but also the education of my children and the living conditions of my family”.

 

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