Coffee farmers and Cooperators in Kasese district have blamed the poor road network for the losses they make as a result of harvesting and selling unripe coffee beans.
The farmers made the remarks at the end of a training exercise on the best coffee harvesting and post-harvest handling practices, organised by Agri Evolve, a major processor and exporter of Arabica coffee from the Rwenzori region.
During the training, it was noted that farmers tend to sell their coffee while it is still young, resulting in significant income losses on their side and negatively impacting on the quality of the coffee produced.
“One only needs 377 ripe cherries to make a kilogram of coffee, and about 531 of the green ones to attain the same weight. This is a big loss for the farmer,” said Joshua Masereka, the Head of Parchment and Cherry department at Agri Evolve.
However, farmers say the bad road network in the area forces them to harvest and sell their coffee immature.
According to Eric Masereka, a resident of Bwethe Village in Kyondo sub-county, transport remains their biggest challenge. The bad roads mean that coffee harvested in these remote mountainous areas would take several days to reach the factory for processing.
This is bound to affect quality of the final product since, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s Arabica coffee processing manual recommends that coffee should be processed the same day it is harvested for the best results.
“Red cherries go bad easily, and so we [farmers] cannot wait for the coffee to reach that stage before picking it, given our transport challenges. Instead, we pick it while it is still green so that by the time it gets to market, it has already ripened,” Eric Masereka explained, adding:
“You will never have good quality coffee until the transport issue is resolved.”
Most of the farmers agreed that the poor road networks in their area have led them to compromise on quality since they cannot easily access markets.
Milton Mulondi, also a coffee farmer, said there is not a single access road in his home area. As a result, he has had to rely on manual labour to get his coffee to market.
“There has never been a single community access road in our area (Buzira village, Kisinga sub-county),” he said. “So, I resorted to hiring people to take my coffee downhill and from there to the market.”
The drawback of this approach, he says, is the adverse impact it has on the quality of his coffee “because it goes through many hands in order to reach the market.”
Other challenges farmers pointed out were the middlemen who drive a hard bargain and buy coffee from farmers at “peanuts”.
Coffee theft is also a common hurdle that farmers face.
“We know that coffee should be picked after it has ripened, but there are many thieves who pick it from gardens. This forces us to harvest coffee beans before they are mature, hence compromising their quality.”
Hope on the horizon
Farmers, however, can breathe a sigh of relief since, Government, under the Agro Industrialization for Local Economic Development (AGRI-LED) program has already started constructing so-called security roads in the mountains to tackle farmers’ transport problems.
Farmer Mulondi, whose area is one of the planned beneficiaries of the project, was thankful for the 360m road extension that will connect his farm in Buzira to Nshenyi, saying his coffee will improve in value once the road is done.
In the meantime, some organisations involved in coffee processing and trade, such as AgriEvolve, are providing farmers donkeys to ferry coffee relatively quickly from farm to factory.