Karoli Ssemogerere, a lawyer, ventured into farming by taking a bet on growing coffee in Kalangala Islands. Today, he is one of the largest coffee farmers in the district with 25 acres of coffee and 30 more yet to be cultivated.
Ssemogerere says he has been involved in “recreational agriculture” since his student days at Makerere University. He was doing this at different locations on the family estate. “Today, our family mostly grows our own food in Busiro County especially for the last 18 years,” he says.
Coffee is a recent addition. He began cultivating it after helping start a certification programme for organic coffee that is cultivated in Uganda.
“We now have a modest but growing acreage in Kalangala district,” he says, “Coffee is and remains a backbone of our economy. It has good economics, it is good for our health and an engine for stability in the rural economy.”
The plunge into coffee cultivation was not as simple as it seems. “In 2009, I threw my life’s savings in what I anticipated could be an 100-acre coffee estate in Kawanga forest located in Mugoye Sub-county. I quickly realised that this was way beyond my capacity,” Ssemogerere recalls adding that he settled on a smaller acreage, which could be managed.
According to him, Kalangala soils are unforgiving. They are highly acidic, lateritic and the archipelago’s unique eco-system is unforgiving producing a combination of weeds, pests and soils deficient in nitrogen.
Amidst all challenges, the Kalangala Robusta coffee berry is durable; has a decent screen size and very high caffeine content. “It cups well. Our recent cupping results are pointing us to the specialty market. My effort in Kalangala though began as a community intervention. I helped set up the first private coffee nursery that is still operational.”
His efforts have been fruitful as most of his coffee is processed and exported. The first harvest yielded 20 sacks.
“Our market is in cafes’ in large cities around the world including London New York, Baltimore, Seoul and San Francisco,” he says. “We are waiting for our scores on the robusta specialty test recognised by associations like African Finest Coffees.”
Kawanga Forest Coffee will be sold in the future as a Robusta specialty coffee, which Ssemogerere expects to sell to the growing local café industry and high-end coffee operations in Europe, Asia and North America.
“Also, it is likely to carry the label of the Forest Stewardship Council with whom we are working closely to preserve forest cover in Kalangala,” he adds.
The Council, of which he is a member, engages private forest owners in conserving forests in different parts of the world.
The passion for nature has enabled him conserve 30 acres of forest in his New Town Bweya home located along Kalangala-Bugoma road, in Bujumba Sub-county. “Every person should interest him or herself in forest and environmental conservation. It moves along with a healthy living,” he remarks.
Besides coffee, Ssemogerere also owns a banana plantation and rears livestock. The latter comprises goats, cows, pigs as well as poultry.
Away from the farm and all matters agricultural, Ssemogerere is an advocate and a US trained attorney. He spent a significant time in non-legal education and work as a graduate of Government (Public Affairs).
Asked whether he would follow his father’s (Dr Kawanga Ssemogerere) into politics sooner or later, he remarks: “I am a graduate of both Harvard Law School and Johns Hopkins University. My plate has mostly been full and politics not been in the present and now especially as my professional career has become even more specialised.”
Again on Politics? “That time will come. I am considering it, but the right time again will come to decide. Not just yet. Let’s keep drinking that coffee and tending to those trees in the forest.”
From Daily Monitor