Coffee is Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner generating more than $422.4m (Shs1.6trillion) every year, and in 2012, the country produced three million 60-kg bags, most of it by smallholder farmers.
And while a lot has been written about coffee and how it is Uganda’s leading traditional cash crop, no one has brought out the real economics of this second most traded commodity in the world, just after oil.
In this article, here is what it takes to grow coffee on a commercial basis.
Planting coffee is not an overnight wonder; it takes adequate preparations. The coffee seedlings should be planted at the onset of the rainy season into holes, two feet by two feet large and at least 45-60cm deep. They (holes) should be dug three months prior to planting.
Ideally, Deus Nuwagaba, production officer at National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE), a body that brings together coffee farmers across the country, says the holes should be filled with topsoil mixed with one bucket/basin of well-prepared manure or compost before planting.
He adds that in addition to a small shade around each young plant that protects it from drought stress, ring mulching keeps the soil around the trees moist.
According to coffee planting guidelines, the spacing defer according the variety, that is, for Arabica, spacing can be 2.5 metres x 2.5 metres while for Robusta, 3 metres x 3 metres is ideal.
Notably, Uganda is the birth place of Robusta and its growing is highly encouraged.
This means an acre of Robusta will accommodate about 1,000 coffee trees. Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) recommends farmers to buy seedlings from certified nursery operators.
A seedling normally sells from Shs300-Shs500.
As coffee grows, the costs tend to come down but what is crucial in initial stages is to keep the plantation weed free through mulching and other mechanisms like weeding. Coffee starts full production after three years.
Shade trees and intercropping
Given the apparent effects of weather changes, it is recommended to plant shade trees in coffee farms at appropriate spacing and intercrop it with bananas.
Some of the shade trees recommended are nitrogen fixing and enhance the fertility of the soil in addition to protecting it from soil erosion. Shade trees and bananas help protect coffee from drought.
Common tree species that can be used as shade trees in both Arabica and Robusta coffee systems include Grevelia robusta, Ficus natalensis, Albizia coriaria, Mesiopsis eminii, Cordial africana, Acacia or Erythrina spp. Fruit trees such as mango, avocado or jackfruit can also be included at intervals.
Considering 1000 coffee trees of Robusta in an acre, a farmer can harvest about 8,000 kgs in a year (there are two coffee seasons in a year), taking the average of four kilos per tree under average management.
From Daily Monitor