Raising the bar of Ugandan coffee

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“Mixing red and green coffee cherries together it’s like giving abortion to baby before birth” – Kads Dison
Uganda does produce the most incredible coffee that stands for quality and flavor that makes it unique and more approachable among coffee professionals. Coffees from Uganda recently started to dominate among baristas around the world who compete with Uganda coffee and try to expose the map of Uganda into the world of specialty.

When during 2012 Taste of Harvest (ToH) Coffee Competition that was held at the UCDA Quality Lab in Kampala from 16th – 20th January 2012, “someone got a chance of my coffee and took a sample for cupping and it was the best in the taste of harvest competition in 2012. That was the time I’ve heard about specialty coffee, and,  I realized ‘Doing it right will end up Special’. So specialty coffee is my passion.” Kads Dison, owner of  PENGURYA COFFEE FARM (Uganda)

I would like to share with you an open conversation that was conducted online with specialty coffee producer in Uganda, Dison Kareng. Dison has developed his efforts to sustain, produce and develop the specialty coffee sector within his community in the outskirt of Kapchorwa municipality not far from Sipi Falls in Eastern Uganda.

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Before getting into the specialty coffee scene, Dison helped his parents with maize farming and banana plantation. Did he little know that coffee was the second largest traded commodity in the whole world by having small coffee farm owned by his parents.

 

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Would you please tell us more about your farm?

My coffee farm was planted in April 2012.  I was already exposed to good coffee practices from my parents which laid the background for my knowledge and education about running my own coffee farm. While working for National Agricultural Advisory Service, I was able to save some money and purchase a land in one block area for coffee cultivation. Later I resigned to pursue my own dream in coffee with creativity and passion.

 

Where is the location of your farm?

The half-acre located around my parent’s house in the eastern part of Uganda and it lies in an altitude of 1860masl. Then the other 4-acre farm is located in Kapenguria, outskirts of Kapchorwa municipality which is our main coffee farm and lies in an altitude of 2180masl.

How you would describe the climatic condition on the farm?

The climatic condition of the area (along with the slopes of Mt. Elgon) is very favorable for coffee growing with the soil composed mostly of sand, silt, and a smaller amount of clay. This loam soil generally contains more nutrients and moisture needed for better coffee production in our area.  Our wet season is from March to May and September to November. There is more rainfall throughout the region during these months that could last even until December.

Coffee and Farmer note: ” the average long-term annual rainfall for Uganda is 1318 mm and can reach up to 2058 mm in Mt. Elgon”.

What type of varietals you have planted?

It’s mainly SL14 and few trees of traditional Nyasaland varietals.

Coffee and Farmer note: The traditional varietal, Dison mentioned here has typica-like genetic background. It considers the oldest coffee varieties introduced to Africa, originally from Jamaica in 1878 that was brought to Nyasaland (nowadays Malawi).  According to World Coffee Research “by 1891 there was a flourishing coffee industry in Malawi, but eventually declined because of the marginal climate, which is hotter and drier than is usual for Typica, and because of the high incidence of pests including white stem borer. Inexperienced farmers allowed the plants to over-bear in the first years, causing a precipitous fall in yields that ultimately led to the abandonment of coffee in Malawi.” Eventually, Nyasaland was brought to Uganda in about 1910, where farmers also struggled with this variety. “Early failure led to the widespread planting of Robusta in Uganda. But in recent years, there has been a small resurgence of Arabica-growing on the slopes of Mount Elgon, where Nyasaland (locally called Bugisu) is an important variety for smallholders.”

Coffee and Farmer noteSL 14 was selected in 1936 from a single tree labeled Drought Resistant and drought tolerant was a noted characteristic. SL14 is related to the Typica genetic group. It is economically important both in Kenya and Uganda. It is susceptible to coffee leaf rust and coffee berry disease with high yield potential and good cup quality at high altitude.

Are varietals separated by lot or grown all together?

I separate lots by varietals, though the dominant varietal is SL14

Is your coffee sun grown or shade grown?

My coffee farm is shade grown under banana trees and well-spaced.  I have created also hedges to control running rainy water.

Coffee and Farmer note: Uganda is the largest producer of bananas after India and the second largest producer of coffee in Africa. Bananas provide shade, mulch, nutrients and moisture to young coffee trees. According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture -IITA “these beneficial effects may particularly be relevant to increase the resilience of the coffee production systems when temperature increases and rainfall becomes more erratic due to climate change”

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When is your harvest season starts and how many kg of cherries each tree produces?

My harvest starts in August with the first production called fly crop (fewer coffee beans)  and then the main harvest picks up in October to December. Each coffee tree by average produces 3kgs of coffee cherries but my goal is to produce minimum 7kgs  per tree based on good management factors.

Coffee and Farmer note: In most countries, coffee is harvested once per year. Some countries, however, have climates that are conducive to growing coffee nearly all year-long. In these countries, there is a smaller secondary crop, called the fly crop.

What fertilizers do you use? Is it organic?

I use NPK (Nitrogen Phosphorus Potassium) which I apply early in March and August. In January (during our dry season), I apply local manure as organic compost. Pesticides spray are common methods here as well in order to control pests to keep them away from damaging coffee beans.  I spray the farm also with disease control chemicals like copper nordox to control the spread of Coffee Berry Disease. One can lose up to 50 to 60% of the entire harvest from CBD if not well-managed.

How many workers do you employ?

During weeding, spraying, desackering and any other related farm management practices, I employ 5 workers (3 women and 2 men). And during the harvest season, I add another 10 workers to maximize production. They are not permanent workers and get paid daily based on kgs of cherries picked

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What processing methods do you use? washed, natural?

I use both methods

Coffee and Farmer note:

Removal of pulp and mucilage followed by washing to obtain a clean wet parchment. Dison and his team start picking coffee at 8am and continue until 4pm. He trained his pickers to harvest only ripe cherries with confidence that this can be done without him monitoring them constantly. They also provide breakfast and lunch for workers during the harvest season which adds an additional value for workers employed there. After picking is done, Dison spends additional time to do post selection to make sure some unripe cherries did not end up in the basket by mistake. The next step is to remove floaters (while it is generally true that overripe coffee cherries dominate the majority of the floaters, coffee in unripe and ripe maturation states often is found in the floaters as well). After floaters removed the next step for Dison is de-pulping where the skin of coffee cherries removed and lovely beans covered with mucilage ready for fermentation that lasts from 24 to 30 hours depending on the weather. Fermentation in this stage enables the removal of the mucilage where sugars are transferred from the coffee fruit to the seeds. The mucilage of the wet parchment beans is removed by the biochemical enzyme through controlled fermentation. The next stage after fermentation is to spread coffee beans on raised African beds for slow and even drying which monitored by frequent rotation. This is the most paramount part of the drying phase because any mistakes could result in moldy flavors and unnecessary fermentation. The moisture level target does Dison concentrate on is 12-13% during his drying process. This is Dison’s critical point for flavor development, and he has to be really vigilant as during this stage that sugars are preserved through the use of good practices.

For his natural process, Dison drying the cherries under the sun with constant rotation to ensure even uniformity.  According to Dison: “careful harvesting to exclude immature cherries is an essential step for perfect drying process”. His natural process takes from 20 to 28 days to be fully completed, where the washed process takes between 12 to 18 days.

What happens after coffee dried?

I store them with parchment in the warehouse until they ready for shipment

Where it goes next?

So upon an order from a buyer, I take coffee with parchment for hulling at a coffee factory.  I do not have my own milling machine so I get service from other existing factories but this puts my coffee at risk of losing traceability and quality. Because such factories operate at a big volume where all coffees mixed together.

Coffee and Farmer note: So in order to preserve the quality of his coffee, Dison has to do hulling on his own where he processes that certain amount of kgs of coffee, separate them and continues with the remaining amount to hull, therefore, keeping a track on his own hard labor.

Milling is done in my presence at all stages, said Dison, but some uncertainties could prevent me from being there where I won’t have control what’s happening with my product. So I would like to buy my own micro lot machine that can do everything combined, therefore keeping traceability and quality intact.

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What motivated you to be the leader in Uganda specialty coffee scene?

What motivated me in the specialty coffee scene is the love coffee people have in supporting and promoting specialty coffee. Every passionate coffee person wants to be associated with the best coffee it can find from around the globe. It gives you motivation and lifts your spirit to produce the best quality coffee from your own farm. And above all, it makes you feel good.

How Uganda moves towards being on the same spot of specialty coffee map along with Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia?

Uganda has embarked on supplying free coffee seedlings to farmers through Uganda Coffee Development Authority to achieve production of 20 million bags by 2020. But we still need to do a lot of training for farmers, provide necessary tools and education to focus on specialty coffee. The other issue is pricing where our hard labor and efforts in producing specialty coffee should be properly compensated and we should not be left marginalized by coffee value chain. I hope we would enjoy the benefits of fare premium prices along the way. Our dedication, sacrifice, and long days are given to produce quality should not be left unattended.

How do you handle logistics of your coffee production?

After milling and grading, I employ a clearing agent for both inland and sea freight transportation. They are reasonable and allow me to have a full container even if I have small volume (like 20kg) to ship. But I am looking forward to having buyers who would be able to place an order of 300 bags at most.

Do you export yourself?

Yes, I have an export license under the name of Bros Coffee U Limited

Are there any challenges you face by doing so?

Exporting as a farmer has no much challenge but the biggest challenge I face is milling my precious coffee from other third-party service providers. There I risk chances of losing traceability of my coffee where a factory could keep my high-quality coffee or even exchange it with others for lower quality.

What is the minimum the farmer in Uganda gets paid per kg of high-quality coffee production? 

Around $1.78 per Kg that is in form of dry parchment but some farmers sell cherries immediately after harvesting them. Those farmers feel no need to go an extra mile in proper processing efforts since parchment prices are low.

What is your average cost for producing specialty coffee?

On rainy days it can go to 4.6$ or 4$. Average 4.3$

What would you agree on being a fair price for you to deliver quality to specialty coffee roasters and importers around the world?

I would look at a minimum of 6$ per kg of green clean coffee as fair price with social benefits and responsibility to farmers.

Who is your major buyer?

Gardelli Speciality Coffees from Italy. It was the first international buyer who selected my coffee for import. But I hope I would get more specialty coffee roasters and importers show interest in my coffee so we could develop a mutual relationship.

What does specialty mean to you?

Produce top quality coffee that stands for its flavor, taste, uniqueness and be recognized around the world for its distinct attribute.

What does it mean to be a coffee farmer in Uganda nowadays?

Personally, I am proud. I want to see the livelihood of farmers change. I want the world to see the potentials in what we have and in what we do. I want to see our farmers benefit from producing quality coffee the same way roasters and importers benefit in getting hands-on great coffees they dreamt about.

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Do you see any help or assistance from the government that tries to motivate coffee farmers in Uganda; financially or with technical assistance?

Direct Financial help from the government is not there yet but technical assistance in form of training farmers and sending agricultural field staff to monitor harvest and production is moving.

How would you describe your own coffee?

It’s a unique one because I gave 100 % of myself in producing the top quality I could to share with the rest of the world.

Is coffee the only cash crop you work with? Or do you have other resources to make extra for living during the off-season? 

It is the only cash crop I work with

Do you have a coffee lab or sample roasters where you can roast and taste your own produced coffee?

No, I don’t have any coffee laboratory or any sample roasters where I can taste my own coffee. It is difficult for me to do cupping of my own coffee at the farm. I have to take my coffee to Kampala, UCDA coffee laboratory which is far and time-consuming.

What else do you want people to know about Uganda and Ugandan coffee?

Uganda is a beautiful country and known as Pear of Africa. In my area, we have the most beautiful Sipi Falls anyone should visit when in Uganda. And we have the most delicious coffee you should try.

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