Coffee farmers in Kasese district are stuck with bags of decomposing coffee following last week’s grounding of all public means of transport as part of measures to curb the spread of the novel corona virus in the country.
The farmers, who say they depend on coffee for their livelihood, told the Cooperator that they have been unable to transport their fresh coffee to the pulping factories ever since the transport ban went into effect. Many farmers said they prefer to sell fresh coffee, which is more marketable than the dried.
Mary Kabugho, a resident of Kaghorwe village in Nyakiyumbu sub-county, Kasese district, says that when the initial restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were announced, she decided to urgently harvest and sell all her mature coffee in order get money for food to take her family through what she anticipated would be tough times ahead. She was too late.
“To my shock, the very day I completed my harvest, the president announced that public transport means were prohibited,” narrates Kabugho, who says she normally takes her freshly harvested coffee to Nyakiyumbu Community Pulping and Washing station where she is paid cash on delivery.
“Now I am stuck with my coffee because we can no longer use boda bodas; the coffee is here rotting in the bags, yet I have no food,” she says.
Kabugho appealed to the government to consider relaxing the strictures on public transport at least once a week when farmers can take their coffee to market and stock up on food supplies.
“Please consider the survival of our children,” she pleaded. “We have no other source of income apart from our coffee.”
Mr. Robert Kule, another coffee farmer from Kirembo in Kisinga sub-county, admits struggling to make ends meet now that he cannot get his produce to market. He, too, feels the ban on public transport was too abrupt and did not leave farmers enough time to cushion themselves for the blow.
”We were not alerted to prepare ourselves in advance,” Kule noted. “We thought that our coffee would keep us going until the disease is suppressed, but now we have nowhere to sell it. We are likely to die of hunger before corona virus reaches us.”
He appealed to government to address the plight of peasants in the villages, saying that their situation, left unattended, may end up worse than the government elites anticipate.
Geoffrey Sunday, the Chairperson of Nyakiyumbu Community Pulping and Washing Station that buys fresh coffee from farmers, told this reporter that coffee trade in Kasese, which had started to decline even before the ban on public transport, came to a virtual standstill after it.
“Our farmers are terrified of the Coronavirus and so majority had stopped bringing their coffee even before the prohibition on public transport. It got worse after that, and we are here with no business. We do not know when this will all end so that we can resume our normal lives,” Sunday said.