- Following the publication in the Seeds of Gold of the story last January about a coffee farming experiment at Joseva farm in Mpigi District, where a different way of spacing Robusta coffee trees is being tried out, the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) has embarked on research to establish its efficacy and suitability to smallholder farmers across the coffee growing areas in Uganda, writes Michael J Ssali.
Joseph Nkandu, Executive Director of NUCAFE (National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises), and his wife, Dr Eva Nkandu, have dedicated one acre of their family coffee farm to an experiential learning and demonstration plot on which 1330 and thirty (1330) Robusta cloned coffee trees are growing.
It is the first experiment of its kind in Uganda and its name, Joseva, is derived from the proprietors’ names, Joseph and Eva.
The traditional practice in Uganda has been planting 450 coffee trees on the same size of land which the couple believes should be revised by planting more coffee trees to increase household income and national coffee production.
The new coffee farming experiment at Buzaami Village is aimed at increasing coffee yields from an acre to 70 gunny bags of dried Robusta coffee cherries fetching about Shs11m for the farmer.
At present a hard working Ugandan farmer gets a maximum of14 gunny bags of dry Robusta coffee cherries from 450 coffee trees on an acre and earns just about Shs2.6m.
“I have visited Nkandu’s one-acre-coffee garden where he has planted more than 1300 cloned Robusta coffee trees,” says Dr William Wagoire, Director of NaCORI.
“He has a very good idea, which, if well applied, could greatly increase our national coffee production. But I am a researcher and I have to put everything to test before I recommend it to the thousands of our farmers all over the country,” Dr Wagoire explains adding: “This rainy season, NaCORI has started a new garden similar to Nkandu’s Joseva Demonstration Garden and we will be continuously observing it to see how productive it can be and what has got to be done to make that spacing system successful.”
Nkandu the researcher
Nkandu is not only a coffee farmer but he is a researcher as well.
He is trying out what he has seen going on in Brazil.
He has a lot of land under coffee where trees are spaced 10 by 10 ft.
The farmer is careful and he has allocated just about an acre to this experiment which is also located a stone throw from Lake Victoria where he gets water for irrigation whenever need arises.
Nkandu believes that Ugandan coffee farmers must change their mindsets. “As we look at coffee vision 2025/30 and Uganda’s vision 2040, we have got to realise that coffee farming is a science and as such science must be applied to boost productivity,” he says.
“In a bid to increase Uganda’s annual coffee production to 20 million 60-kilogramme bags there are things that must be done differently from the way they have been done before. They include the reduction of spacing for Robusta coffee from 3 meters by 3 meters between rows, as has been practiced for many years, to 3 metres between rows and one metre between trees.”
He also believes that given the small plots of land on which the peasant farmers grow coffee, increasing the number of coffee trees on each plot will greatly boost their income and national coffee production.
Need for prior soil analysis
However, Nkandu strongly advises farmers to apply soil nutrients after carrying out soil analysis.
Recently he invited Prof Julius Zake, of Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences who carried out a chemical and physical analysis of the soil at the farm and found out what specific nutrients were required.
He also gave instructions about how they are to be applied.
“Farmers should not blindly apply fertilisers or nutrients in their gardens before carrying out an analysis of the soil because different areas have different soil deficiencies. A fertiliser or nutrient that works for one farmer in an area may not work for another farmer located elsewhere. What Nkandu has done, seeking scientific analysis of the soil on his farm before applying any fertiliser, is the best practice and it’s what all farmers should do as we seek to improve national agricultural production,” says Zaake.
Nkandu strongly believes that Uganda has the potential to get to the coffee production levels of giants such as Brazil and Vietnam if it is ready to change its work methods.
Nkandu recommends appropriate application of irrigation, control of weeds, pests and diseases as well as good coffee canopy management and proper post-harvest handling of coffee.
He further urges Uganda to fully adopt the “Farmer Ownership Model”, which is actually his brain child.
The model supports farmers to take full control of their product as the main decision makers and price setters to reduce exploitation by middlemen and coffee trading corporations.
Coffee is Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner crop and it earned more than US$500m (about Shs15tn) last year from an approximate 4.6 million 60-kilogramme bags produced.
For a long time Uganda’s annual coffee production has stagnated around 3.5 million bags due to pests and diseases, harsh weather conditions, poor farming practices, and discouraging prices paid to farmers.
In 2014, President Museveni came up with a directive to increase annual production to 20 bags before launching the Coffee Roadmap in 2017 aimed at transforming the coffee sub-sector.
How to plant coffee
When he set out to plant the experimental garden about three years ago, he dug up holes two feet deep and two feet wide which he covered up for a month with soil that was mixed with poultry litter.
It was into that soil that he planted the Robusta coffee clones before applying about 30 grammes of Single Super Phosphate around the foot of the young plant.
After some four months he applied 30 grammes of NPK 17:17:17 around the clone to help the crop develop more leaves and to prepare it for flowering.
With regular rains and irrigation within about a year his coffee flowered. This May Nkandu will be carrying out his second coffee harvest on the garden and he expects some 70 dried gunny bags of coffee cherries.