Reviving superior coffee from the Rwenzori mountainsides
Quality coffee is a generation game
Like their parents before them, Kirimbwa Joseph and his wife, Musoki Rose, grow coffee to support their family. The bulging sacks of freshly picked red coffee cherries they carry represent their pioneering attitude toward joining the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program, where they work with agronomists to learn new methods that increase their coffee quality and crop yield. It’s a move that’s seen Joseph and Rose increase their income, make plans to extend their home, and develop their farm further—life changes potentially so beneficial, other farmers in the area are starting to take notice.
Keeping productivity high
Joseph stands among the canopy picking ripe coffee fruits from trees that have grown for over a decade, making them tall enough to require a ladder to harvest. He’ll soon have to prune them down again to keep their productivity up, but in the meantime, the extra effort to reach the branches is worth it. The trees’ cherries have been able to drink in the dappled sunlight and form beautifully, their flesh nourishing top-quality coffee beans within.
Red, ripe, and ready
Picking selectively is the first stage in getting coffee to market, and it’s the most important. Farmers in Uganda have had a long history of low yields because they’ve had to pick every cherry regardless of size or ripeness. Wanting to reinvigorate the coffee culture in this unique region, Nespresso and its Uganda-based implementation partner, Agri Evolve, work with farmers like Joseph to place value on quality above all else, encouraging them to pick luscious, red cherries only. The yield may equate to a slightly smaller volume, but it’s worth a higher price on the market.
An easier route to market
To say that the Mbata village is remote would be an understatement. As such, collecting or delivering coffee grown by clusters of smallholdings is difficult on any kind of commercial level. So farmers often carry their coffee cherries on foot down to a specialized buying center, where they know the best of their cherries will go on to be bought by Nespresso for a good price.
Premium coffee fetches a premium price
As farmers carry their cherries into the buying center, Mbambu Ester is likely there waiting for them. She helps them weigh and prepare their cherries for transporting and pays them a premium price after she and her colleagues inspect the fruit and send it on to begin a natural sun-drying process. A coffee farmer herself, Ester holds the trust of other growers in the community, and so promotes the techniques that help them raise the quality of their coffee and increase their incomes. With near double takings potentially on the table for higher quality coffee, word begins to spread that the new techniques are worth learning.
Quality over quantity
Joseph and Rose’s cherries mingle with those from other farmers in the region at the buying center, where they’re once again sorted and quality checked. The last couple of years have seen a shift toward maintaining quality throughout the coffee selling process. Farmers were once responsible for growing, picking, hulling, and drying beans before they could sell them. Now, more established infrastructure relieves them of some of these processes, making it easier to get their coffee onto the global market. And Nespresso provides assurance to farmers that the extra care taken to grow the highest quality cherries will be worth it.
Anything but run-of-the-mill
Coffee farmers in the area aren’t just responsible for growing coffee; they often have to process it as well. This is time- and resource-intensive to do, and often farmers can’t sustain the quality control required to properly prepare the higher-grade coffee they’ve been growing. To help take some of the pressure off, Nespresso has supported the construction of a mill in the town of Bugoye, which processes cherries to meticulous standards after farmers have delivered them—allowing smallholders to focus on improving their farms to continue growing the best beans. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Farmers in Uganda are always thinking of their families first. By beginning to take on new skills such as bookkeeping and improved harvesting techniques, they hope to provide better lives for their families. In future, higher earnings could provide farmers with healthcare, pensions, and ongoing education for their children. The village school in Mbata teaches Joseph’s children and others from coffee farms all over the area.
More coffee stories here.