Jubilant sounds of high-pitched ululation pierced the air on the happy occasion of the Uganda Coffee Agronomy Training (UCAT) certificate giving ceremony in Kakumiro District, Uganda. The commencement took place in November 2020 and signified the hard work and dedication of 62 coffee farmers who had completed a 24-months agronomy training program which focused on coffee management. Just two years earlier, many of them had abandoned their coffee and focused on the quicker returns of seasonal crops like maize, beans, and bananas. Now, they are certified trainers equipped with invaluable knowledge which has improved their lives and their community.
UCAT was launched in August 2018 by Stichting Coffee Agronomy Training, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Keurig Dr Pepper, and Enveritas with the aim of improving the livelihoods of 50,000 farmers in Western Uganda. The partners endeavored to help farmers increase their yields by at least 50% through comprehensive agronomy training implemented by Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) and TechnoServe. Over a period of 4 years, HRNS was targeting to reach 22,000 households in the district of Kakumiro, Kyenjojo, Kibaale and Kagadi with Cohort 1 targeting 12,000 direct beneficiary households in Kakumiro and 10,000 households in Cohort 2 in the remaining three districts. This was an ambitious goal particularly because many smallholder farming families in Western Uganda had abandoned their coffee gardens.
But why had smallholder families who had grown coffee for generations given up on the lucrative cash crop? Misearch Masengere a UCAT Cohort 1 farmer from Kakumiro explained some of the reasons; “We had lost hope in coffee and decided to focus more on our maize, beans and bananas because we weren’t harvesting enough cherries to make good money from the coffee.” At that time, farmers thought that focusing on their food crops benefited them more as they yielded both food and income and didn’t take as much time to grow. Additionally, farmers could not control the coffee wilt disease and didn’t have access to resistant varieties. As a result, many farmers neglected or even uprooted their coffee.
Clessy Ndaula, the UCAT Field Operations Manager elaborates saying, “The broken coffee value chain in the Rwenzori region resulted in a big loss to the Ugandan economy and vulnerable farmers receiving a shrunken percentage of the farm-to-exporter price from middlemen. Coffee farmers had no knowledge of the true value of their cherries and agronomy training was also a missing. This meant they didn’t have the information on how to improve the quality and quantity of their yields.”
Thankfully, the training gap was filled after the first Cohort of farmers in the UCAT program registered for the curriculum which focused purely on agronomy. From the beginning of the program, HRNS’ Field Officers were committed in mobilizing and training farmers who became farmer trainers. This method of extension enabled the pilot program to reach 12,848 smallholder farming families with information on good agricultural practices in just 24-months. As the target for Cohort 1 was to reach 10,000 farmers, this goal was not only realized but surpassed.
Knowledge is indeed power and improved farm management has reaped exponential results for Misearch and others in his community. In just two years, Misearch is making seven times more money from his 1.5-acre coffee farm and yielding 6 times more coffee per year. The quality of his cherries has also improved because he has applied the agricultural practices he learned on his farm.
Today Misearch continues to train other farmers on the knowledge he has acquired. He advises up to 13 farmers in one month through farm exchange visits or phone calls. Some of the key things he trains them on is correct spacing when planting coffee and ensuring stumping and pruning when rehabilitating previously abandoned coffee. Misearch also planted 500 wilt resistant seedlings and has been selling them to his neighbors. He acquired the seedlings from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and the government of Uganda and is happy to report that now in his village there are around 30 new coffee farmers. He also notes an increase in the number of coffee farmers in the surrounding villages as well the fact that there is at least 1 farmer trainer to advise the community on coffee management in the surrounding villages.
During the UCAT Cohort 1 certificate giving ceremony, Mr. Swezen Kutambaki the Kakumiro District Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) requested the list of the farmers who completed Cohort 1 so that he could connect them to the district’s Agriculture Cluster Development Program (ACDP). This local government program enables farmers to acquire genuine fertilizers, pesticides, and tarpaulin at an affordable price of 150,000 UGX (40 USD). Through this partnership, the farmers also get information on other government programs which they can benefit from.
So far, UCAT has contributed to the rehabilitation of coffee in Kakumiro district through the transformation of mindsets. Farming households see the benefits of coffee as a cash crop and this has led to an increase in coffee planting when the crop had previously been abandoned in the region. Although Cohort 1 ended in Kakumiro, the certified farmers continue to invest in their community through extension. In the districts of Kagadi, Kibale, Kyenjojo and Kiboga, Cohort 2 is still ongoing and has so far reached 9,855 households out of the targeted 10,000.