On November 10, 2018, a group of coffee players and I visited Kaweri Coffee Plantation Limited located in Mubende district, about 200 kilometers (by road), west of Uganda’s Capital City, Kampala.
The study trip was organized by a popular ‘Coffee WhatsApp Group’, further highlighting how beneficial social media can be if effectively utilized.
About 50 coffee players attended the study tour whose aim was to equip them with new skills on how to improve coffee production and earn big from it.
We entered the plantation at exactly 10:20am and were welcomed by a breathtaking environment characterized by natural forests and coffee red cherries.
Joseph Mungai, the Head of Agronomy was our key facilitator. Below are some of the lessons for coffee farmers from Kaweri Coffee Plantation.
Environment is key
For starters, Kaweri coffee plantation started operations in 2001 and is owned by Germany based investors.
It sits on 2500 hectares of land. Coffee alone (Robusta type) covers 1600 hectares, making it the largest coffee plantation (sitting on the same piece of land) in Africa. It is also one of largest coffee plantations in the world.
The remaining part is covered by natural, indigenous highland rainforests, roads, housing, processing equipment and natural papyrus swamps.
As you approach the farm, you realize natural forests have been depleted in favour of pine and eucalyptus trees. However, as soon as you enter Kaweri Coffee Plantation, natural forests welcome you, with sounds of various birds making this agri-tourism trip worth it. Colobus monkeys are also seen emerging from forests, implying that many wild animals have resorted to these conserved forests.
Mungai revealed that Kaweri coffee plantation doesn’t irrigate, but during the dry spell, their coffee remains green and isn’t affected like others due to natural forests and shade trees in the coffee. The forests absorb the shocks the dry spell brings.
The plantation is subdivided into four sections; Nonve, Kyamutuma, Kitagweta and Luwunga. Each section is managed by a Manager for easy management. This means each manager is in charge of 400 hectares.
Further, each section has an agronomy manager and supervisors. Each supervisor takes care of 100 hectares. Additionally, each section employs about 400 workers, but the number shoots up during harvest season. Currently, the plantation is beautified by red cherries and harvest is ongoing.
Clonal Way to go
Mungai revealed that the plantation grows clonal coffee/cuttings from the first six lines; A, B, C, D,H and F. Clonal coffee, he says is high yielding compared to seedlings.
He says that they have a mother garden which feeds their nursery bed for mainly refilling purposes.
The rest of the plantlets are sold to farmers. He revealed that they are yet to embrace Coffee Wilt Resistant varieties since they aren’t planting new fields and the one they have is doing well.
At Kaweri Coffee Plantation, each coffee plant has a maximum of four stems. They used spacing of 3*3 meters, but they are currently experimenting on 3*2 meters. While many farmers bend/train their coffee to stimulate growth of new stems/suckers, at Kaweri they cut off the main coffee plant after three months of planting. With application of fertilizers, this stimulates growth of new stems. Only four are left to grow.
To keep the plantation productive, Mungai revealed that they use conversion method every five years. This method involves cutting off at least three stems on each tree. The whole plantation isn’t converted at once so as to keep production ongoing. One stem is left to keep the plantation productive. Mungai notes that after conversion, the new suckers/stems will start producing after two years.
Fertilizers And Soil Testing
For one to earn profitably from coffee farming, they must apply fertilizers. At Kaweri, they apply fertilizers right from planting up to fruiting time. However, all their fertilizers are imported due to unreliability of local suppliers and quality issues.
Given the size of the plantation, Kaweri doesn’t weed; they only use slashing method and application of herbicides that kill weeds. Like fertilizers, these are also imported.
Due to the location at the equator, Kaweri like the rest of Uganda experiences two rainy- and two dry seasons and the farm does not apply irrigation. Blooming usually takes place in February and July and coffee thereof is harvested 9 – 12 months later.
The farm harvests coffee almost throughout the year but, with peaks in December/January and May/June. Annual production ranges between 1600 – 3000 tons of green coffee p.a., split into different qualities and screen sizes. They have a company that markets and sells its coffee abroad.
Kaweri runs its own experimental department, which serves to search for even better cultivation solutions under the given pre-conditions. This includes trials with different clones and shade trees, searching for effective pest and disease control methods, nutrition trials etc.
Small Farmers Can Make It
While Kaweri is a big plantation, smallholder farmers can make it if they apply best agronomic practices. They need to plant high yielding planting materials (varieties) and cuttings are recommended. Small coffee farmers can also irrigate their farms in addition to applying fertilizers. This will greatly increase output per acre.