Mr. James Bihamaiso is a Field Officer at the Buzibiti and Gibuzale washing stations of the Mt. Elgon Washed Arabica Scheme. He and his colleagues are responsible for training and monitoring around 6,000 farmers.


Profile of farmer schemes belonging to Kyagalanyi Coffee LTD., Uganda

The Nakanyonyi natural Robusta scheme and the Mount Elgon Washed Arabica scheme are two 4C Units of Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd., in Uganda, East Africa. Both schemes work with several thousand of smallholder farmers. Kyagalanyi is a member of the VOLCAFE Group, a 4C Member, with its headquarters in Switzerland.

The Nakanyonyi 4C Unit is situated in Central Uganda and with about 2,500 Robusta farmers is the smallest of the two 4C Units.  The Mount Elgon 4C Unit is made up of 6,500 Arabica farmers and is located in Eastern Uganda, in the foothills of the picturesque Mount Elgon. Both Units have been 4C verified and UTZ certified since 2007. Additionally, the Mt. Elgon 4C Unit has recently obtained Rainforest Alliance certification.

Seeking a sustainable path for coffee farming

Geoffrey Namanda is one of the 6,500 coffee farmers of the Mt. Elgon 4C Unit.

Through its two 4C Units, Kyagalanyi  supplies its clients with coffee produced and processed according to the 4C Code of Conduct, so-called 4C Compliant Coffee. Over the years, the Units have been able to record considerable improvements in coffee production and the livelihood of farmers through the implementation of improved practices in the social, economic and environmental dimensions.

Kyagalanyi assists farmers that participate in the Nakanyonyi and Mt. Elgon schemes to improve their livelihoods by increasing coffee production. The company achieves this through:

  • Training on good agricultural practices through competent, local staff
  • Encouraging farmers to improve coffee quality through trainings on harvest and postharvest techniques, enabling farmers to access good processing facilities and paying for quality
  • The use of training materials in local languages, such as Luganda, with user-friendly text and pictorials
  • Contributing to the control of Coffee Wilt Disease in the Robusta area of Uganda by subsidized sales of improved clonal Robusta seedlings 
  • Encouraging Arabica Farmers to expand their coffee gardens by offering them high quality Arabica seedlings on a cost-sharing basis
  • Breaking down price factors into layman terms and offering incentives such as bonuses
  • Improved access to genuine farm inputs in remote rural areas

The two 4C Units employ about 50 local field staff that reach out to the coffee farmers in the units. A large part of their work consists of training the farmers, keeping them engaged and following up on the implementation of the sustainability standards. 4C Voices talked to staff members at both the Nakanyonyi and Mt. Elgon 4C Units to find out about their work and the challenges they encounter. 

Mr. Moses Kazunga is Assistant Field Officer at Buzibiti washing station at the Mt. Elgon Washed Arabica Scheme. He described the annual inspection visits that he and his colleagues make to each of the 6,500 farmers in the scheme  and one could tell that he enjoyed this contact with the farmers:

“We have tools which we use when we go out to the field. Tools like the inspection book, evaluation forms, list of registered growers, a compliance policy (depending on which standard) and an improvement plan. We visit the farmer and go to all the plots he owns, checking what kind of coffee growing practices he has in place and how the family manages the home and capture this information in the inspection forms. If we find a non-compliance or poor coffee management, we discuss and agree with the farmer on how he or she can improve.”

Clonal Robusta seedlings in the nursery at the Nakanyonyi 4C Unit. At the 4C Unit, farmers can purchase high quality seedlings at a subsidized price.
Both the Nakanyonyi and the Mount Elgon 4C Units are 4C verified and UTZ certified. Additionally, Mount Elgon has recently passed Rainforest Alliance certification.

Voices from the field

4C Voices talked to Mr. John Egonu, the Nursery Operator, at the Nakanyonyi scheme

At the Nakanyonyi scheme, we were met by the Nursery Operator, Mr. John Egonu. Shaded by many large trees and bananas, the nursery and mother gardens are a pleasant place to visit. Mr. Egonu enthusiastically explained how he raises clonal Robusta seedlings from the 5,000 mother bushes in his nursery. “Farmers have lost more than half their coffee trees because of the Coffee Wilt Disease, which was really bad in this area. In the past four years, we have managed to distribute more than 1 million seedlings! Now, COREC [coffee research centre in Uganda] has given us 7 new Robusta varieties that are resistant to the disease. We want to bring those now to our farmers. Therefore, we have planted our first mother gardens with these new varieties and we will keep expanding them until we have replaced all our old gardens”.

Implementing improved coffee practices comes with its challenges, something Field Officer James Bihamaiso talks about during the same visit. "Much of the coffee growing in the region is home intensive, meaning that farmers depend on their family to work on the farm. Older children may assist their parents with picking coffee after school hours. It becomes a problem when the parents let their children carry heavy loads of cherries, as this is not good for their backs. We try to explain this to the farmers. Many will accept and stop their children, but some resist. We then have no choice then to stop these farmers from supplying coffee to us.” 

Similarly, farmers at times question why they should follow certain verification or certification regulations. It is especially difficult to convince farmers to  stop the use of certain chemicals, while the Government [of Uganda] promotes the use of the same chemicals in some cases. Asked what alternatives Kyagalanyi offered to (banned) chemicals, Mr. Bihamaiso said, "We try to encourage the farmers to apply Good Agricultural Practices. For example they can stump off old stems to fight Coffee Stem Borer  or practice prevention for leaf rust by improving soil fertility, pruning and using copper fungicide instead of automatically spraying."   

Although coffee yields are improving, low yields are still a very big challenge according to Mr. Bihamaiso with many farmers  producing an average of 1 to 1.5 Kg of coffee cherries per tree. Through training activities, the field staff encourage coffee farmers to prune and stump their coffee, control erosion, apply fertilisers and mulch: "we also carry out a lot of trainings on the safe use and handling of agro-chemicals. Farmers in our region have very little information on this. We tell them how to safely spray their coffee and not to store the chemicals at home but in our agro-chemical stores", he adds. 

Achievements and future prospects at the Nakanyonyi and Mt. Elgon Schemes

In spite of the challenges, the future looks bright for the farmers involved in the Nyakanyoni and Mt. Elgon schemes. For example, the Mt. Elgon Scheme produced a record high volume of 4C verified and UTZ certified coffee in 2011/2012 and created 35 full time and 250 temporary jobs, including many for women. Social achievements include  the support of five schools in the area, whereas a notable increase in the safe use of agro-chemicals and reduction of soil erosion are achievements in the environmental dimension.

At the Nakanyonyi scheme, over 1 million high quality Robusta seedlings  have been delivered to farmers so far. The Unit has noted significant improvements in harvesting and post-harvesting practices through training and certified farmers now have access to hulling services and pricing according to FAQ parameters, thus gaining added value for their coffee.

The testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Gibonu Charles of the Mt. Elgon Washed Arabica 4C Unit is a good example of how farmers who are part of the Kyagalanyi schemes are benefiting from the projects:

“We have 5 acres of coffee and most of our trees are 50 years old. Before we joined the project, we only harvested around 3 kg per tree. One day we were approached by an extension worker from Kyagalanyi called Wananzofu Richard. Life has never been better since we are getting advice on how we can improve our coffee yield,” says the couple, who are members of Gibuzale washing station.

“Wananzofu advised us that we could double our yields if we accepted to stump all our trees. I first tried with one field and realised that the practice was good. After two years we can now pick about 5 kg per tree. Seeing this, I decided to stump the rest of my fields as well,” Mr. Gibonu recalls. “The project also introduced fertilisers on a bonus arrangement basis. I managed to get around 5 bags of NPK, which I applied in my fields. Looking at the coffee now, I am expecting to get better yields."