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Butambala Farmer Reaps Big From Organic Coffee Growing, Targets 70,000Kgs Of Kiboko Per Year

Ssentongo is set to harvest over 80 bags of kiboko in a single season from his five acres

Butambala district is popularly known for ginger and khat (mairungi) farming. It’s hard to link the district to coffee farming because as you move through villages near Gombe Town Council, the headquarters of Butambala district, you’ll see a mix of farming enterprises, with many families practicing zero grazing.

You’ll also see a few abandoned coffee trees.

However, about two kilometers from Gombe Town Council in Kabula LC1, Kayenje Parish, there lies a well-looked coffee farm that will blow your eyes away.

Welcome to John Ssentongo Kyamanyi’s five-acre coffee farm that other farmers can pick a leaf from.

Journey to coffee farming

At one point, Ssentongo never saw himself in the farming business.

Around 2000, Ssentongo left Butambala district for Kampala in search of greener pastures. He did casual jobs in various companies. He also attempted preaching, but somehow things didn’t go well.

In 2008,  he made a U-turn and decided to go back to the village to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, who he says, earned a living from coffee farming.

“I couldn’t afford to continue being employed,” Ssentongo said in a recent exclusive interview with Business Focus at his farm.

“I decided to venture into three enterprises; coffee, matooke/bananas and maize,” he added.

He started by planting two acres of matooke but they were wiped out by diseases. In 2010, he started planting coffee.

“My mother had about 250 coffee bushes of old clonal cuttings. I selectively picked cherries from the high yielding varieties and got quality Elite seedlings from them,” he says, revealing that he didn’t have money at the time to buy plantlets.

He adds that he used 8ft by 8ft spacing because his soil wasn’t so fertile.

However, he didn’t earn much from his coffee until he stumped the coffee and applied coffee husks to his soil.

“I stumped the coffee in phases, starting in 2018. When I stumped the first part and applied about 350 bags of coffee husks, I planted ginger and got some good money that enabled me to buy more coffee husks for the remaining part,” Ssentongo says, adding that this greatly improved his soil health and coffee yields.

He first harvested 3,500 kilograms (35 bags of dry cherries worth 100kgs each) from the five acres two years after stumping.

“I would have harvested more but thugs stole a lot of my coffee,” he says.

He says in a single season that is about to end, he anticipates to harvest a total of over 80 bags of kiboko (dry cherries).

“I first harvested 39 bags of kiboko and got some good money. I then harvested 21 bags which I sold to buy organic fertilizers,” he says.

When Business Focus visited Ssentongo’s farm, he was found sun-drying 40 bags of red cherries where he hopes to get about 25 bags of kiboko.

Ssentongo sun-drying his coffee

“We have now got to the level where we want this coffee to be. We have applied organic fertilisers and the recent flowering has been massive. We hope to double our yields,” he says.

Going Organic

Ssentongo says that he was previously using herbicides to control weeds, but his advisor, Ismael Kintu, advised him to stop the practice and go organic farming.

“We only slash and sometimes do ring weeding. The slashed residues add more humus to the soil and the coffee has greatly improved,” he says, adding that slashing also helps him control soil erosion.

He says manure and coffee husks are expensive in his area. He has now decided to complement them with cheaper organic fertilizers.

“I’m now using affordable organic fertilizers to complement the coffee husks and cow dung. A 25kg bag costs about Shs80,000. I applied them in April but as you can see, the flowering has been massive and more flowering is expected,” he says as we move around the farm.

He says he has spent about Shs10m on fertilizers this season.

“It’s worth it because I can easily get back that money in a single harvest,” he says.

He doesn’t have shade trees due to fears of being hosts for the devastating Black Coffee Twig Borer (BCTB), but this hasn’t stopped the pest from attacking his coffee.

Ssentongo’s coffee recently had good flowering

He says he has controlled it using Black Off Liquid Organic Fertilizer, a broad spectrum pest-repellent natural fertilizer under Reticia Products Research.

The product was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture  after the Government-owned Namalere Agricultural Centre  carried out extensive research on it and found its composition to be NPK 4:14:11+Amino Acids (in technical terms).

“So far, it has worked for me. Twig borer infestation has greatly reduced compared to other coffee farmers within the area,” he says.

Ssentongo employs 12 people in his coffee and maize farming ventures every season.

Challenges

His biggest challenge is thieves.

“Both in the shamba and at home I’m not safe. Last season, they stole about 1,500kgs of kiboko from the store. They also pick coffee from the shamba but we are trying to improvise security,” he says.

He adds that his workers are yet to fully understand coffee agronomy, but he’s training them.

“Some pick unripe cherries, especially the ones I get from outside the farm to boost the manpower I already have,” he says, noting that he pays Shs2,500 per tin/basin picked. He adds that sun-drying coffee is also tiresome. In future, he wants to dry his coffee using a solar system.

Ssentongo picking coffee

Just like other farmers, the dry spell also affects Ssentongo, but he has plans to acquire an irrigation system to improve on his yields.

“The district has promised a solar-powered irrigation system where I will contribute 25% of the total cost,” he says.

Plans

From his coffee earnings, Ssentongo has acquired more land and plans to plant more six acres of coffee.

“From my calculations, with 11 acres, I can’t fail to get about 60,000-70,000 kgs of kiboko per year based on the yields from the coffee I have so far,” he says, adding that this will help him get his own coffee mill in future so that he can add value to his coffee and that of other farmers in the area. At an average of Shs2500 per kilogram of Kiboko, Ssentongo is looking at earning a gross of Shs150m-175m per year. He adds that he’s doing everything possible to ensure that every tree gives him 25kgs of kiboko per year.

“With the passion and determination I have for this coffee, this will be achieved with time and my yields will go higher,” he says.

Advice to other farmers

Ssentongo advises potential and existing farmers to have passion and determination for whatever enterprise they choose to venture into.

“With passion and love, coffee will give you the money you want. You can’t reap from where you didn’t sow. You must invest in your coffee,” he says, adding that his extra care for his coffee has made his shamba a model farm attracting visitors from various parts of the country.

 

Ismael Kintu, an applied chemist and Ssentongo’s advisor, says a few years ago, he got training in coffee technologies from National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises Ltd (NUCAFE), a farmer-owned social enterprise, and after the training, he voluntarily started promoting coffee farming in Butambala district.

He says he visited Ssentongo’s farm and observed that the coffee was only lacking Good Agronomic Practices (GAPs).

“He’s a compliant farmer because he implements what I tell him. I’m happy that I’m beginning to see the results of my advise,” Kintu, who’s also a coffee farmer and trader, says.

He says they chose organic farming because coffee is a generational crop that requires soil to be preserved in a healthy state. He adds that they will soon begin on the process of getting certified as organic coffee farmers.

He reveals that farmers in the district had abandoned coffee farming due to coffee wilt disease, but they’re steadily returning to coffee farming business.

He advises farmers to first seek knowledge about coffee.

“Coffee is a business and with knowledge, coffee farming can be a lucrative business,” he says, urging farmers to form groups and also drink the coffee they produce.

He also calls on other players along the coffee value chain to stop exploiting farmers.

For tips, opinions and advertising, Tel: 0775170346/0703828741/staddewo@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter: @TaddewoS @BusinessFocusug

Taddewo William Senyonyi
https://www.facebook.com/senyonyi.taddewo
William is a seasoned business and finance journalist. He is also an agripreneur and a coffee enthusiast.

2 thoughts on “Butambala Farmer Reaps Big From Organic Coffee Growing, Targets 70,000Kgs Of Kiboko Per Year

  1. Patrick Kimuli

    A very big applause to Mr ssentongo with such efforts, his story about the cro is inspiring, full knowledge and advise to hang on, thanks you Mr Tadeo for your tireless efforts through business.

  2. Immaculate Karungi

    Indeed coffee can give u all the money you need.
    Grow more coffee.

    Thanks for the hard work

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