Joseph Birimumaaso of Kabalagala Village in Kisekka Sub-county, Lwengo District, believes that by planting the right plantlets and carrying out good agricultural practices, it is possible for a farmer to earn at least Shs16m a year from one acre of Robusta coffee.
So far he has some 50 acres of coffee but he is clearing more ground to eventually have 110.
“It is possible,” he confidently told Seeds of Gold. “The farmer must begin with getting the right coffee plantlets. The plantlets should be high yielding and disease resistant.
Today, the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCRRI) and the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) have released very good Robusta coffee varieties that are available in a number of approved coffee nurseries across the different coffee growing regions of the country where farmers can go to purchase them.
The plantlets should then be planted in well prepared holes, where organic manure is mixed with soil preferably at the start of the rainy season,” says Birimumaaso.
His coffee trees have already fruited only two years after planting. In the next two years the trees will be a lot bigger and he hopes to harvest some 30 kilogrammes of red ripe coffee cherries per tree, given the efficient crop husbandry practices that he is applying.
“When the coffee is dried and husked I expect to get some eight kilogrammes of green beans, locally known as kase, from each tree. At a conservative rate I expect to sell a kilogramme of kase at a minimum price of Shs5,000 resulting in Shs40,000 earned from each tree,” he says.
Now given that there are about 400 coffee trees in an acre, I shall be able to earn Shs16m per acre.
To get maximum profit from coffee farming, Birimumaaso says farmers should aim at selling their crop at the highest level of the value chain.
Birimumaaso who studied agriculture at Bukalasa Agricultural College and in India, spent some time working with UCDA in Kalangala District before deciding to become a coffee farmer three years ago.
His father, Gerald Ssendaula, former Minister of Finance, is also a coffee farmer and chairman of National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farmers Enterprises (NUCAFE).
He talks with a lot of confidence about coffee and strongly believes that it is the crop to transform farmers’ lives and the country’s economy.
“The correct tree spacing in the garden should be 10 feet by 10 feet,” he said.
“At the time of planting the farmer should not fully cover up the hole with soil. The cloned coffee plantlets should be placed about half a foot below the ground level so that some water gets trapped in the space around the plantlet whenever it rains. That water slowly sinks into the soil, taking with it nutrients from the organic manure to the root area of the coffee plantlet to promote vigorous growth,” he advises.
Since the coffee trees are still young Birimumaaso has planted beans, Irish potatoes, and groundnuts between the coffee tree rows.
“The crops are intended to bring in some cash as I wait to harvest coffee which takes years to be harvested,” he explained.
Before planting the crops he ensured the soil was well mixed with animal manure. He does not support fighting weeds with herbicides unless the farmer is in a position to strictly follow manufacturers’ instructions.
“I prefer growing organic coffee. It is the reason I use a brush grass cutter in the areas where I do not have any crops growing. It consumes very little fuel and very cheap to use,” he says.
To maximise profits he has contacted fellow farmers to form a coffee farmers group with a view to begin selling coffee directly to overseas buyers through NUCAFE.
“I want to have at least 200 coffee farmers in the group. All the farmers that I have contacted have welcomed the idea and I have so far introduced quite a number of them to the top leadership of NUCAFE,” he says.
To join the group, according to Birimumaaso, the members will each have to be growers of cloned Robusta coffee to achieve big volumes and to get the best coffee bean size.
“They will all be expected to observe the best postharvest practices such as picking only red ripe coffee cherries and drying the coffee on coffee trays, tarpaulin mats or cemented floors. As a group we will also purchase a moisture meters so that we all use them to make sure nobody fails to achieve the required dryness levels,” adds the youthful farmer.
Joseph Birimumaaso emphasises the importance of weeding and pruning and other good coffee management practices such as the application of manure and planting of shade trees.
“Care must be exercised when applying synthetic fertilisers,” he says.
“The farmer should not blindly apply manufactured fertilisers before carrying out soil analysis of their farm because they are meant to provide nutrients where they are missing. The farmer may not know just by looking at the soil in the garden what nutrients are missing or what ought to be done. This is an issue about which the area agricultural extension workers’ guidance will be greatly required,” Birimumaaso explains.
Birimumaaso is fortunate to be in a position to purchase sufficient organic manure for his farm.
His farm is also located quite close to Kyoja Swamp from which he hopes to get water for irrigation in case of prolonged droughts.