Farm: Kawacom Uganda Ltd.
Varietal: SL 14
Altitude: 1650 to 1800 meters above sea level
Owner: Kawacom Uganda Ltd.
Town / City: Rwesande, Kasese
Region: MT. Rwenzori, South Western Uganda
Maliba – Organic - Uganda
For many, Uganda might not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking of high-quality Arabica: the country has been traditionally known as a producer of Robusta. However, in many regions of the country, the challenges are more a matter of infrastructure, history and knowledge than the environment. One such area is the Kasese district in the Southwest of the country, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Arabica coffee is grown at 1,650 to 1,800 meters above sea level. The region’s ideal natural conditions have the potential to produce stellar speciality coffees and transform the lives of farmers across the region.
Kawacom – the driving force behind this quality-driven project and Mercanta’s exporting partner in Uganda – has been operating in the district since 2017 to harness this potential. By promoting the cultivation of Arabica coffee, training farmers in agricultural techniques and best practices and educating widely regarding the importance of harvest and post-harvest activities, the project hopes to put Uganda ‘on the map’ as the next big destination for speciality coffee. So far, the successes have been multiple. In 2003, Kawacom received their very first Organic certificate; an accomplishment that has, over the years, attracted UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certification schemes. Today, the project has expanded significantly, thanks to these successes, today reaching over 10,000 smallholder farmers, many of whom not only receive higher prices for their higher quality coffee but also participate in other social and environmental programs and Kawacom’s cash management project.
The Maliba project, meaning ‘animal hides or skin’, takes its name from the region in which the coffee is grown. Other than coffee, workers in the region grow a variety of other cash crops, including cotton and cocoa, as well as working in other industries, such as fishing and timber production. As the Kasese district sits on the Rwenzori Mountain range, many workers will travel to neighbouring country, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to work in the mines.
Kawacom has heavily encouraged renovation activities amongst project participants and has, for the past several years, distributed approximately 150,000 coffee seedlings annually to its partner farmers. Distributed varieties (including SL14, SL 28 and Batian) are selected due to their resistance to coffee berry disease (CBD) and drought, as well as being suited to the climate of the region and producing a high cup quality.
Due to Kasese’s location to the equator, the district is fortunate to receive two coffee harvests. This means that unlike many other Kawacom projects in Uganda, pruning is kept to a minimum, as farmers are unable to prune large sections of their trees. Only selective pruning techniques such as cutting the stems are used. These techniques help to encourage productive branches, improve airflow and limit disease.
Soil fertility is maintained by regular applications of composted manure from animal waste and coffee processing, as well as by establishing cover crops. No synthetic fertilisers or pesticides are used. To control pest damage, chillies, wood ash (containing potassium), marigold and animal urine are used. TO prevent soil erosion, techniques such as terracing and mulching are used on farms located on the mountain slopes.
During the harvest season, all coffee is selectively hand-picked and delivered by individual farmers to one of Kawacom’s 9 collection points. Kawacom encourages farmers to deliver coffee still in its cherry, instead of hand pulping it themselves on their farms. This has given the project increased control over processing activities, which can be challenging in the region as rains during the harvest season are common.
Since 2015, the mill has also been able to produce very limited quantities of specialty natural coffee; such is the case for this lot. The delivered coffee cherry is first floated in cool clean water to remove any floaters. Next, the cherry is taken to raised beds to dry. Here, the cherry is continuously sorted, removing any under ripes, over ripes or unwanted cherry. As well as sorting, the drying cherry is continuously turned to ensure uniformity, with coffee cherry heaped at peak sunshine and covered to avoid cell damage. As well as uniformity, this process helps to slow down the fermentation process, avoiding an overly winey tasting coffee profile, as well as increasing the quality and shelf life of the beans. This time-consuming process will continue for around 17- 21 days, depending on the levels of rainfall, until the moisture content reaches below 11%. This method for coffee processing meant that in 2016, Kawacom earned the Taste of the Harvest award for their fantastic naturals.
Once the coffee cherry has dried, the stock is loaded into trucks and delivered to the dry mill in Kampala, some 390km away, for final milling. After milling, coffee will be prepped, ready for export.
Kawacom extension workers continuously work to sensitise farmers participating in the project to youth and gender issues, to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and to provide education in finance and savings management. The project has also established a training centre to train farmers in all issues relating to Good Agricultural Practices and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Furthermore, Kawacom runs a Gender & Youth Initiative that promotes entrepreneurial training and opportunities for local youth.
Kawacom has also worked to establish ecological awareness programs, such as preventing deforestation by encouraging and financially facilitating the implementation of energy-efficient cooking stoves that use biogas for fuel. They are currently investing in rainwater harvesting tanks that will be installed at farmers’ homes to collect rainwater for domestic use.