Beans from the Pearl

On the 10th of May 2011, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) together with USAID LEAD (Livelihoods and Enterprises for Agricultural Development) Project made a presentation to local coffee stakeholders on the recent developments from their project of intercropping coffee and bananas to help improve income, food security, and system resilience in Uganda.

From 2006 to 2008, IITA had been involved in a first assessment of the benefits of fertilizer use and banana intercropping in coffee fields in two agro-ecological zones in Uganda (South and East). In collaboration with the Uganda Agricultural Productivity. Enhancement Program (APEP), IITA studied some 150 on-farm  coffee demonstration coffee plots that received fertilizer and best-bet crop management practices and 150 neighboring farmer control plots of mono and intercropped coffee and banana. In the Arabica-growing area in eastern Uganda, coffee yields were similar in mono-cropped and intercropped fields. The number of coffee trees per hectare decreased slightly when intercropped, but yields per tree were higher. In the Robusta growing area in South Uganda, coffee yields reduced by less than 15%. The revenue per hectare of the farmer increased by 50 to 60% when coffee is intercropped with banana. The same fertilizer (urea) was added to the demonstration plots in the two project areas and coffee yield responses and foliar analysis showed different limiting nutrients in the different sites. Tentative fertilizer recommendations for the sampled region were developed. Modest fertilizer applications will certainly help boost the coffee yields of Uganda, which is amongst the lowest fertilizer consumers in the world, despite most of Uganda’s soils being highly weathered with poor to modest inherent soil fertility.

The IITA-USAID/APEP project therefore identified the need to develop site-specific recommendations in Uganda to improve the productivity and profitability of coffee production. To develop this, detailed studies on resource use efficiency in a range of environmental conditions should be complemented with participatory on-farm evaluation of management strategies in the principal coffee-producing agro-ecologies of Uganda.

In 2009, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture approached the USAid Lead Project (who have made significant and notable impacts within the coffee sector in the country) to help make this dream a reality. They sought to have:

  1. On-farm surveys to compare the productivity and profitability of coffee-based farming systems with and without banana intercropping,
  2. Mapping of nutrient deficiencies through foliar and soil analysis on the same farms that were surveyed under activity 1, and
  3. On-farm testing of site-specific fertilizer recommendations in farmer field school (FFS) observation plots.

The project shed some interesting realities on the situation on the ground in much of the coffee growing areas. Intercropping coffee and banana occurs in almost all coffee producing areas of Uganda. The exceptions being the areas in the North where coffee is just being introduced and where farmers are trained to plant coffee without bananas. In all districts sampled, coffee production is far below potential yields with quantities varying between 0.3 and 2 kg FAQ per tree. Farmers perceive the main constraints for the production of coffee to be old soils, pest and diseases and changing weather patterns.

Figure 1: Location of the 260 farms visited for the coffee survey

The survey enabled them to map coffee yield in Uganda together with limiting factors to coffee production (see Figure 1).

Basing on these results the proposal was to have a collective effort to map Uganda’s coffee quality and add this component to the mapping exercise. The project that will cover 260 farms in five of the coffee growing regions – Mbale, Central Uganda, Acholi-Lango, West Nile, and the Southwestern Albertine rift area has drawn heavy support from the industry with UCDA (Uganda Coffee Development Authority), Coffee Research Centre (COREC), EAFCA (East African Fine Coffees Association), Africa Coffee Academy, CQI, Kyagalanyi, Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung, Good African, Ugacof, Kawacom partnering with LEAD-USAID & IITA.

With a standard protocol already designed, the project is expected to last for 9-12 months.

One of the strongest arguments for this was the development of the Fine Robusta Protocols and the establishment of Uganda as the Centre of Robusta excellence. The mapping of the Robusta regions would go a long way towards understanding the unique profiles from the various regions strengthening their marketing potential and furthering the work already carried out by the Coffee Quality Institute.

While it may be argued that this project is vital to boost the regions prospective, anyone who understands Uganda’s commercial coffee market will justifiably feel that much of the coffee will be so adulterated with coffees from other regions/countries, that coffees from origins may be corrupted.

However the IITA researchers and USAID LEAD team are very optimistic about it. They both feel an understanding of the Ugandan coffee regions soil and cup characteristics, will in long run go a long way to cleaning up the value chain as more of the industry participants feel the need to maintain the region’s brand and strengthen its image. They hope with the support of sector players that this will and can be achieved.

Either way, for the development for fine coffees sector in the region and with momentum gained by recent strides with in the last 3 years in the country among industry stakeholders, the project provides so much potential to understand the soil and more importantly Uganda’s Unique Coffee.

About Beans from the Pearl

In this blog, our correspondents report on the developments with Uganda, better known famously by the name given to it by Sir Winston Churchill – “The Pearl of Africa”