Great Lakes Coffee Brings Farmer Profitability Trials to Life in Uganda: Part 2
you missed Part 1 of our series on the GCMP through the experience of Great
Lakes and Mr. Baluku, check it out here. Today, the focus
shifts to the land. We look at some
of the key steps of bringing a WCR on-farm technology trial to life, including
selecting improved varieties and agronomy treatments.
On November 5, 2018, Mr. Raphael Baluku and agronomists from Great Lakes
Coffee Uganda gathered to watch as workers carefully placing baby
coffee trees into 156 holes dug in the earth.
The bustling work happening on this small corner of Mr. Baluku’s small coffee farm in western Uganda was part of something much bigger. As one of an expected 1,100 farmer field trials being installed around the world by World Coffee Research, Mr. Baluku’s plot of land is part of a massive global effort to understand—and improve—the profitability of coffee farmers. The effort, called the Global Coffee Monitoring Program (GCMP), relies on Great Lakes Coffee and dozens of coffee exporters and supply chain partners, working together with WCR to implement the trials. Mr. Baluku’s plot is one of 10 trials that Great Lakes Coffee is assisting WCR to conduct in Uganda.
Step 4: Collecting socioeconomic data
Each trial relies on a series of interlinking relationships to come off. Before baby plants were placed in the ground, socioeconomic data about Mr. Baluku and his farm were collected by Great Lakes Partner Agronomist Muthaghanzwa Sanairi. Each partnering agronomist receives extensive training from WCR’s in-country lead agronomist, Maureen Namugalu, on how to collect the necessary data. The initial survey covers everything from climate and weather (a small sensor is installed onsite), soil analysis, and household and farm data. Acquiring this information before the trial begins helps paint a clearer picture of the variables that influence the success of Mr. Baluku’s coffee plot.
Step 5: Selecting varieties and agronomy treatments
The Global Coffee Monitoring Program pulls on two “levers” to
study where the biggest gains in the profitability of coffee farming might come
from—using better varieties and using better farming practices. Each farmer
field trial features two improved varieties and agronomy treatments in the
farmer’s field; these are tested against the farmer’s existing variety and
practices, which serve as controls. In total, each trial site is a grid with nine
sections—each of the three varieties paired with each of the three agronomy
treatments. The goal for Mr. Balaku’s farm is to determine which of the nine
sections generates the most coffee, the best coffee, and—most important of
all—the highest profits.
In order to figure out which varieties to include in the trials
in Uganda, WCR teamed with local coffee researchers and representatives from
Great Lakes Coffee and other supply chain partners at a daylong workshop. Many
factors are considered when selecting the varieties that go into a trial. These
include: the varieties available in a country or region, the elevation, and
partner and farmer preferences in terms of variety characteristics, such as the
potential yield, disease resistance and cup quality. Since Mr. Baluku was
already growing SL14 on farm, a high-yielding tall plant common in Uganda on
his farm, it was chosen as the control variety. The other varieties selected
were SL28, a variety known for its high cup quality potential, and Batian, a
new variety from Kenya that is supposed to combine high yields, tolerance to
coffee leaf rust, resistance to coffee berry disease, and good cup quality. As
with all GCMP trials, the seeds and seedlings were tested for genetic purity
and plant health.
To determine which agronomy treatments to use at Mr. Baluku’s farm, Ms. Namugalu and Mr. Sanairi work closely with the farmer and Great Lakes Coffee Agribusiness Manager Koen Sneyers. They selected options that will bring a variety of new approaches and benefits to Mr. Baluku’s farm. For example, one treatment adds Albizia Coriaria trees for permanent shade (compared to avocado and mango trees in the control plot, which attract black twig borer, a pest that is harmful to coffee). In addition, both improved treatments include cow manure for fertilizer (compared to no added fertilizer in the control treatment).
Steps 6 and 7: Establishing and maintaining the plots
With the varieties and agronomy treatments chosen, the
agronomists work with Mr. Baluku to install the trial according to the
established design. First, Mr. Baluku hired local workers to clear the land for the trial
and to plant the coffee seedlings in neat rows. With the
plot now installed, Mr. Baluku has assumed the responsibility of maintaining it
and keeping records of the tasks he does in the trial. The Great Lakes
agronomist, Mr. Sanairi, visits the farm about twice a month to monitor the
trial, address any challenges Mr. Baluku has, and to make sure the data is
The trees on Mr. Baluku’s farm are just a few inches tall today.
But in just a few years they will be towering over his head. By November 2021,
the green trees will be festooned with red coffee cherries—the first fruit. When
that happy day arrives, Mr. Sanairi will oversee the collection and weighing of
the cherries for one of the most important early measurements of the trial—which
combination of variety and agronomic treatment produced the most fruit. Another
key question—which combination produced the best tasting coffee—will be
answered by taking a small sample from each of the nine plots to process,
roast, and brew (ensuring samples are kept separate and traceable).
In the first two parts of this series, we’ve covered most of the steps that WCR follows with our partners and farmers to bring the GCMP program to life. In the final part, coming next week, we’ll look at how we collect data and share knowledge in the trials, as well as how prospective partners can become part of the GCMP!