I am Siragi Kayondo from Sheema District in western Uganda and I earn my livelihood from growing coffee.
I grow organic coffee because it fetches a lot more money and is easier to manage compared to that grown using chemicals and fertilisers.
My choice of coffee as my main source of income was informed by my informal study on why the educated people in my area were more prosperous, despite their peasant backgrounds.
The answer was simply coffee.
Their parents were able to pay school fees because of income generated from coffee and from their membership of a the crop growers union in the district.
I started growing coffee 10 years ago and I have no regrets, because I have been able to sustain myself.
The start was not easy because I had a small piece of land, which I was also using to produce food for my family.
However, with my $120 savings, I purchased seedlings for half an acre.
With time, I bought more land and continued to expand up to the current five acres, where the yield is about 50 bags per annum.
I always open up the land during the rainy seasons of March-May and September–December to avoid it drying up during the dry season. I am now planting about 300 seedlings.
To preserve the water in the soils during the dry period, I mulch my garden using cut grass, banana leaves and sawdust, among other vegetative materials.
Mulching has helped to reduce soil erosion, and also improves the fertility by enriching it with nutrients upon decomposition.
It also slows down the runoff, improves rainwater penetration and suppresses weeds.
All these have helped to add the weight and quality of my coffee beans. I usually apply the mulch at the beginning of a rainy season for better results.
I use compost manure to conserve soil fertility and also water retention during the dry season as this increases organic matter content and improves the structure of the soil.
Since the holding capacity of water in the soil helps maintain it, I make sure there is proper decomposition before the manure is applied.
To do this, I dig three pits to rotate the waste materials by giving it adequate time; the 45 days of a composting cycle.
I pass the composting material from one pit to the other. From the third pit, I start applying it on the gardens.
Some of the matter that I use in the compost are cow dung, chicken and goat dropping, kitchen waste and green leaves.
I use manure because I do not have the money to buy inorganic fertiliser and besides, I am skeptical about its effect on soils and the coffee trees.
I have heard some of my friends complaining that once you start using chemicals, you have do so perpetually.
To control pests and diseases, I use a mixture of human urine, ash and red pepper to spray the trees. And I have not experienced any major coffee disease.
During harvesting, I pick the ripe berries to avoid producing poor quality beans when they are dried and to allow the green ones the time to ripen.
Although it is laborious, it pays at the end of the day because I will have maintained the quality. Further, I dry up the ripe beans on tarpaulins to avoid contamination with soil.
At the beginning, yields were not as expected, however with time there has been marked improvement.
I used to harvest just a few bags, but I now get 50 bags when the rains are good and 45 when the season is not favourable.
A kilogramme of unshelled coffee will go for $0.8. My earnings come up to between $3,500 and $3,900 per annum.
This money has enabled me to live a good life; I am able to meet my financial obligations like paying school fees for my children (two have graduated from university), build a house and I am buying more land for expansion.
Some of the constraints I face are lack of access to information, extension services and group marketing.
Majority of us peasant farmers do not know where to get the information on various aspects of coffee farming.
We hear there is an organisation that oversees coffee production, but they have never trickled down to us.
Mulching materials are scarce as most of the land has been cleared for farming.
During the dry season, the newly planted seedlings need to be watered yet we do not have irrigation materials.
Value addition is a big problem as there are few coffee processing facilities in the area, hence we sell our coffee to the middlemen.
If we processed our coffee before selling, it would fetch double the amount of money offered when it is unshelled.