The better the coffee the higher the price – that is the lesson learned by Uganda coffee farmers It takes good craftsmanship to grow good coffee. On Mount Elgon in Uganda more than forty coffee farmers are increasing the quality of their coffee – with Danish aid.
Francis Kawanaga and his 16 year-old son, John, carry the 50 kilo bag out from their living room. Father and son spread out the coffee evenly on some straw mats, in order for it to dry in the sun. It is school half term, so John helps his father drying and sorting the coffe beans.
”I have harvested coffee for only three years, and now it is my main income,” says Francis Francis Kawanaga in his plain English, learned mainly from listening to the wireless in the evenings.
In 2001 he switched from tomato plants to Arabica coffee trees.
Apart from Francis’ wife, Teresa, the family include eight children aged 7 to 22, and a 14-year old orphan boy adopted by the Kawanga family.
The Danish Farm Mountain Project has chosen Francis Kawanga and forty other farnmes as their business partners. The purpose is for the farmes to deliver quality coffee and in return get better prices for their produce.
The coffee will sold in Farm Mountain shops in Denmark and will be used in a new Danish invention: One Coffee, which is a filter bag for one cup of coffee – more or less like the well known tea bag.
The coffee farmers sell their coffee too fast, which means lower prices,” Simon Bolwig from The Danish Institute of International Studies explains.
”There is a huge demand for coffee from Uganda, which is why the coffee is being bought up as quickly as possible. Also, the poor farmers need money here and now. Therefore they sell their coffee before it is dry and sorted. Some even sell before the coffee is ripe. This affects both quality and price, and the farmers don’t make enough profit for investments and improvements. It is a vicious circle,” says Simon Bolwig.
The vicious circle can be broken by making niche products such as coffee from a specific area, organic coffee or coffee beans which the consumers can roast.
”The trend is towards coffee companies trying to make the coffee exclusive in order to improve both the quality and price of certain products,” Simon Bolwig says.
This is exactly what the Farm Mountain project is doing. The project chooses coffee from Mount Elgon and act upon the UN Millenium Development Goals about sustainable production and development. By attaching a limited number of farmers to the project they can ensure the farmers better quality and higher prices. Farm Mountain buys the coffee directly from the farmers, which enables them to control the quality.
The village Bumukiso on Mount Elgon is picturesque. Several soft mountain tops fill out the horizon, the banana trees appear on the mountain sides. The houses are scattered throughout the area. Frequent rain makes the mountain scenery green and luxuriant.
But still, the village is poor. Few houses have electricity, and if so, it only works every two or three days. Nobody has running water. All work in the fields is by hand and hoes. Most products are carried or transported on bikes up and down the mountain.
Unlike many farmers in the village Francis Kawanga has already invested in proper processing of his coffee. Among others he dries his cofffee on straw mats lifted up from the ground.
On the other farms and in the villages further down the mountain the coffee beans dry on tarpaulins directly on the ground. This means that the beans very easily go mouldy. And if the beans dry on straw mats directly on the ground, the coffee will often taste of earth. Francis Kawanga knows that. Therefore he has built a drying rack to put the straw mats on. Coffee production is a craft in which every step of the process matters.
Francis Kawanga has 4000 coffee trees. Every tree yields about three kilos of coffee berries or 1.5 kilos of dried coffee beans. This makes Francis a big producer, but he is far from being the biggest.
”This man has many coffee trees, maybe 6000,” says Francis as he introduces an elderly coffee farmer.
Later he says, ”He is still a poor man. I don’t know what he does with his money. He doesn’t know how to save up.”
Poverty makes it difficult for the farmers to make long-term plans and lay up money for them. But a regular buyer paying a fixed price certainly helps.
Next to The Kawangas’ house is Francis Kawanga’s latest investment, a so-called pulp machine. It is thirty years old and came to the mountains when the British first introduced coffee production into the area.
The pulp machine is a huge ”parsley mincer” which separates the red fruit flesh from the coffee bean itself. Francis uses the machine for his own coffee production, but he also hires it out. For one kilo of coffee the other farmers can pulp their coffee on Francis Kawanga’s machine. This means higher prices for their coffee.
Trees and fixed deals
The hoe breaks the heavy red soil. The eldelst son in the Kawanga Family, Hezekiah, is planting a Cordia tree between the coffee trees. The Cordia trees are to be planted at intervals of ten metres all over the coffee field. It is the men’s job to plant the trees, so Francis Kawanga is working along with his three sons in the slanting field. The holes are filled up with dung from the family’s two cows before the tender trees are left to their own devices.
The Cordia trees shade the coffee trees from the hard sun. Also the Cordia trees contribute to keeping the soil fertile. The result is that the coffee beans grow bigger. The Cordia trees are sponsored by the Mountain Farm Project people, who handed over the trees at a meeting for all the farmers concerned. And the trees are the only traditional aid they will get.
”We can’t offer you tables to dry your coffee beans on, machines or other materials,”
the man behind the project, Lars Bendix from Denmark, explained at the meeting.
”We can offer you a fair price for your coffee, if you can vouch for the quality of it.”. This is the way the project works. A mutual agreement between farmers and the project. At the meeting the farmers were also given some tricks of the trade by a state authorized agricultural adviser.
Francis Kawanga’s coffee trees spread out over two fields. The newest one is behind the family’s house. In the middle of the forest of coffee trees is a mud-built hut where the two cows are. They are used only to provide manure for the coffee trees and are yet another example of Francis Kawanga investing in a better quality of coffee.
The good quality has its price, though. Francis Kawanga’s second and largest field is further op the mountainside, far from the family’s house. Here intruders can easily harvest coffee under cover of the night. As a result Francis Kawanga has hired to watchmen, who take turns in a hut next to the remote field.
”Since I hired them, I haven’t lost any coffee,” he says and shows his meticulous handwritten accounts of his coffee harvest.
”I am proud of my family, of my boys,” Francis Kawanga continues, and it is a split second before the connection becomes clear.
”They don’t steal from me, from the family,” he explains.
It is quite common that children and women steal a kilo or two while picking the coffee beans. Then they sell them to the coffee dealers to get a bit of pocket money.
Francis Kawanga is well aware that the Farm Mountain Project does not automatically provide better living conditions for him and his family. It takes a common effort from every coffee farmer in the village.
”I just hope that I can sell some of my coffee to the project,” says Francis Kawanga.
”And then maybe in a few years we can buy a lorry together. We can pick up coffee in the mountains for the other farmers. Help them and make some money at the same time.”
But first of all Francis want to finish building his house. It has been on its way for six years now, and he still has to make the roof over the corner where his family wash in small tubs. And then he wants to make a store room for his coffee so that he doesn’t have to store it in the living room anymore.
Facts about coffee production
The quality of the coffee beans can be estimated in three different ways:
1. Size: how well they have been grown.
2. Dampness: how well they have been dried
3. cleanness; how well they have been sorted.
Facts about The Farm Mountain Project and One Café
Translated by: Gitte Luk