Zipporah Ayebare (Right), a Marketing Specialist at Aramah Coffee, buying coffee from a youthful farmer
Ugandans are increasingly joining coffee value addition so as to earn more and grow domestic coffee consumption.
Aramah Coffee, a flagship product of Mara Agribusiness, is one of the young companies into coffee value addition with special interest in youth. The company started operations in 2017, but serious coffee business started in 2020.
In an exclusive interview with Business Focus at their coffee shop at Design Hub in Industrial Area last week, Zipporah Ayebare, a Marketing Specialist at Aramah Coffee, revealed that their coffee is a high value product grown by Ugandan youth.
She says the company trains youth coffee farmers in best agronomic practices from scratch up to post-harvest handling.
“We then buy the coffee from them at higher prices above the prevailing market price. This means we are giving them ready market and empowering them to grow more coffee because we give them a good price,” Ayebare says.
She reveals that they process the coffee and sell it as roast and ground coffee to the clients.
“Every pack of Aramah coffee bought has an impact onto the farmers because some of the margin goes back to training the farmers,” she says.
Asked about what inspired the company to focus on youth, Ayebare says Uganda’s coffee industry is dominated by an ageing group of people.
“Coffee is mainly grown by people above 50 years of age and yet the 72% of Uganda’s population is youth. That means if there’s nothing done, in the future, Uganda will have production challenges because coffee farming is not being passed on to the young generation/youth. That’s why we decided to train the youth,” she says.
She adds that they decided to focus on youth after realizing that youth were running away from rural to urban areas looking for better job and business opportunities.
“Many didn’t know they could actually make money from agriculture.
Coffee is the top export crop for Uganda and it can change one’s financial fortunes if it is treated as a business,” Ayebare says.
Aramah Coffee is operating in the districts of Mityana, Luwero, Kamuli, Masaka, Mayuge and Bulambuli. As of last year, they had recruited and trained 1,050 youth in the above districts. On average, each farmer has two acres of coffee.
On whether they process all the coffee from the farmers they are working with, Ayebare said that domestic coffee consumption is so low and therefore, they can’t buy all the coffee from the farmers and add value to it.
“The current domestic coffee consumption isn’t sustainable for an SME like us,” Ayebare says, adding that they aren’t able to buy all the coffee from the farmers they train.
“We buy a bit of it and sell some of the green coffee locally but we are looking forward to start exporting coffee as well,” she says.
The company hopes to start exporting coffee next year.
For now, they want to buy all the coffee from the farmers that they have before expanding.
“Once we reach that milestone, then we can add on more farmers. We want to buy all the coffee from our farmers at a good price,” she says.
The farmers are organized into groups, with most of them having 30 members. Each group is spearheaded by a leader.
“The groups in each district have a trainer at a district level. The district trainers are trained by a trainer from Aramah coffee. The district trainers train the group leaders who eventually train their members,” Ayebare says, adding: “This is done practically monthly at a member’s coffee farm. The members choose which farm the training will take place and this keeps changing.”
Mara Agribusiness employs about 17 Ugandans. The company also deals in agro-inputs.
On how they ensure farmers don’t sell the coffee to other buyers offering better prices yet they have not invested a penny in organizing farmers and teaching them best agronomic practices, Ayebare said so far it isn’t their challenge because they can’t off take all the coffee from members.
“As Mara, we are happy because they are selling good coffee at good prices. The buyer will not cheat the farmer because the coffee is of good quality,” she says.
She reveals that before their intervention, some of the coffee trees couldn’t produce a kilogram of dry cherries (Kiboko) but a tree can now produce more than five kilograms.
On who buys their coffee, Ayebare says: “Currently, we sell our coffee in Kampala. We target everyone especially middle and high income earners who can drink coffee.”
She adds that they are involved in activities aimed at growing domestic coffee consumption.
“We normally hold free coffee tasting events where people drink and appreciate the uniqueness of Uganda’s coffees. Here at Design Hub, we do it monthly,” she says, adding: “Since there’s low coffee consumption in Uganda, most people haven’t tasted coffee. Some say it’s bad, it’s sour even when they haven’t tasted it. Many people end up liking the coffee and buying after tasting it.” .
Ayebare commends Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) for the efforts being undertaken to promote domestic coffee consumption.
“We are grateful as coffee players for their efforts. I would encourage them to train more roasters and baristas. UCDA should have more coffee cupping competitions,” Ayebare says, adding that UCDA should have an official national coffee academy that will offer training at a cheaper cost than having several small private training coffee academies that aren’t up to the standard.
Youth are an interesting group of people with unique challenges. Ayebare says most youth don’t have land of their own.
“Most of them are using their parents’ land. When it comes to women, you recruit a young lady and once she gets married, that land is taken away from her. So land is an issue,” Ayebare says.
She adds that mindset for the youth remains an issue.
“Some of them think agriculture is not a serious business you can survive on. We are challenging them by setting up model farms where they can learn from. Our goal is for a farmer to earn an average of Shs300,000 per month for the start which some people have done in our groups. We are trying to change their mindset that you can earn big from agriculture,” she says.
Ugandans in general have a negative ideology, myth about coffee. I encourage Ugandans to taste and find out themselves how good coffee is rather than believing in baseless myths about coffee,” she says, adding that people should also be sensitized on how best to drink coffee.
Ayebare says for those who think coffee dehydrates, it’s better to first have a glass of water before drinking coffee.
“For beginners, it’s better to drink coffee in the morning hours,” she says.