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Great Lakes Coffee Brings Farmer Profitability Trials to Life in Uganda: Part 1

Dec. 10, 2018

Through our Global Coffee Monitoring Program, WCR is conducting trials around the world—including in Uganda—to help coffee farmers find a path to profitability.

Mr. Baluku is one of the many smallholder farmers who works with Great Lakes Coffee, a green coffee sourcing, milling, and exporting company in Uganda.

Mr. Raphael Baluku has been getting a lot of questions about his coffee trees recently. In November 2018, the 54-year-old farmer—in Maliba subcounty, Kasese District of western Uganda—collaborated with World Coffee Research on the installation of an on-farm technology trial (OFTT) plot at his farm.

Located on a part of Mr. Baluku’s 0.219 ha coffee farm, the OFTT features the farmer's current variety, SL14, and two new varieties—SL28 and Batian—and improved agronomy treatments. Because Mr. Baluku’s farm is near the roadside, his neighbors have taken an immediate interest in the new plants. “It’s an attraction to other neighboring coffee farmers who pass by every day,” Mr. Baluku says. “They have been asking me a lot of questions.”

Mr. Baluku is one of the many smallholder farmers who works with Great Lakes Coffee, a green coffee sourcing, milling, and exporting company in Uganda. As a valued partner of World Coffee Research, Great Lakes is helping to lead the installation of OFTTs in Uganda—one of 32 countries around the world in which the farmer field trials are being installed through the  Global Coffee Monitoring Program (GCMP).

One of the objectives of the trials is to allow farmers to feel the impact of investing in new technologies such as improved varieties and agricultural practices. When the harvest arrives, the farmer gets a better understanding of which varieties and practices provide the highest profit, helping them see the value in pursuing these practices and driving an increased supply of high-quality coffee going forward. In 2019, WCR will work with over 35 coffee industry partners, the USDA, USAID, and producing-country coffee institutions to oversee what will eventually be a global network of over 1100 farmer field trials in 20 countries—including Uganda.

The aggregated data from these trials will allow farmers, for the first time, to receive customized recommendations on variety selection and agronomic approach that will result in the greatest profit for their particular set of conditions—no more one-size-fits-all recommendations.

For anyone investing in renovating coffee farmers, whether it be the farmer herself, a coffee exporter, or a government, this new profit data will lower some of the substantial risk typically entailed by planting new coffee trees that won’t produce fruit for 3-4 years.

This is Part 1 of a three-part series in which we’ll explore how a Global Coffee Monitoring Program trial comes together by focusing on Great Lakes Coffee’s work with Mr. Baluku.

Step 1: Finding a partner

Historically, a significant barrier to reaping the benefits of agricultural research is getting the results of the research into the hands of those who need it most—farmers.  The Global Coffee Monitoring Program addresses this challenge in the design of the trial itself, which are placed in farmer fields. 

To make each trial a reality, WCR must identify partners who are committed to implementing the trials (each lasts five years) and who understand the risks, benefits, costs, and expected outcomes. Costs will vary from region to region, but WCR typically funds 50 percent of a trial, with the partner covering the other half, often by providing their staff to work with participating farmers. The benefit for the partner is clear, as they can witness the effects of improved varieties and agricultural practices, and can expose the farmers in their supply chains to these features and their link to productivity.

loading seedlings

Loading coffee seedlings for planting at Kawacom- ECOM nursery in Kasese, Uganda

In Uganda, WCR’s Uganda Country Agronomist Maureen Namugalu identified Great Lakes Coffee as an ideal partner for the trials, recognizing that, like WCR, Great Lakes is dedicated to improving coffee yields and profits for farmers. The family-owned company sources 100 percent traceable coffee, and its team of 30 agronomists provides farmers with a training curriculum to sustainably produce high-quality coffee. Because of this direct farmer connection, Great Lakes Coffee was an ideal partner to bring OFTT  trials to Uganda. Great Lakes agreed to take on 10 total trial sites, launching six in 2018 (including Mr. Baluku’s) and planning four more for 2019.

GLC Agronomist

Muthaghanzwa Sanairi is the agronomist in charge of assisting with trials in Maliba district, where Mr. Baluku resides.

Steps 2 and 3: Establishing leadership and selecting farmers 

The Global Coffee Monitoring Program is managed by World Coffee Research under the guidance of a global director, Danielle Knueppel, and a team of regional managers.  Ms. Namugalu, the Country Agronomist, coordinates all in-country GCMP activity in Uganda for World Coffee Research. But she doesn’t do the work alone. On the contrary, Namugalu relies heavily on partnering agronomists from Great Lakes Coffee to implement the trials in Uganda. One of those agronomists is Muthaghanzwa Sanairi, who is in charge of assisting with trials in Maliba district, where Mr. Baluku resides.

The first step is to select farmers to participate in the trials. One of the central outcomes of the global trial network is the production of a dataset that will guide recommendations for a diverse range of farmers around the globe, so the farmers selected for a country must represent the diversity of that country's coffee sector. Diversity includes everything from farmer type, farm size, ecogeography (e.g., a range of altitude of soil types), and growing system (such as shade versus full-sun conditions). Partners provide insight into the country’s farming system diversity, and lead the selection of farmers that represent that diversity.

Then, the real work begins. Partnering agronomists receive training from Namugalu to lead the farmers in each trial. Great Lakes agronomist Muthaghanzwa Sanairi is in charge of helping the farmers in Maliba subcounty establish the trial—clearing the land, receiving baby trees, and planting them according to the trial’s gridded design.  As the trial proceeds, he will collaborate with Mr. Baluku and other farmers to collect data from their respective trials in the area.

Mr. Baluku is just one of the farmers that Great Lakes Coffee selected for its GCMP trials. In Part 2 and Part 3 of this series, we’ll learn more about the trial on his farm as we proceed through the steps of implementing a trial for the Global Coffee Monitoring Program

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