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Uganda: Wet processing of Arabica coffee

SIPI Falls Bugisu: Enhancing smallholder Arabica quality through central wet processing

General information
Project location: Sipi Town, Kapchorwa, Uganda
Consortium: Simon LĂ©velt BV, Kawacom Ltd
Project Budget: Euro 700,000
External financing: 60% grant funding by PSOM
Project period: December 2006 - December 2008

Uganda is renowned for its coffee production and particularly for the special cupping characteristics of its robusta beans, which therefore do obtain a good price on the international market. Robusta coffee is native to Uganda and wild trees can still be found there.

The quality of Ugandan Arabica however is not so well known although it is possible to produce excellent Arabica there. The problem is the wet processing of Arabica that is currently carried out by the small farmers themselves. This results in a very inconsistent product because farmers all process the coffee cherries in different ways in all the stages of the processing, from picking, transport, pulping and fermentation down to washing and drying. The farmers pick indiscriminately, mixing the ripe cherries with unripe or overripe ones. Current pulping methods result in unnecessarily high rates of damage to the beans as the hand pulpers they use are often poorly maintained. Furthermore the length of time for which batches are fermented varies widely, which has a major influence on taste. Because of the small size of the batches that they process, it is difficult for the smallholders to control the temperature of fermentation. It is also very important that this primary processing takes place quickly – ideally within 6 hours of harvest. If this does not take place, the cherries start fermenting / rotting on their own, resulting in very poor quality coffee. Finally, sun drying is difficult in this area due to the altitude and high rainfall.

For Uganda to maintain a strong position in the coffee market it is important that the overall quantity of coffee produced does not increase, since one of the problems with the world market is frequent oversupply, and increasing production may actually lead to a depression of prices (the opposite of what is wanted). Therefore the most economically beneficial strategy is to increase quality so that Ugandan coffee can achieve better than average prices. This is done by aiming at niche markets including organic and Utz Kapeh and improving quality and consistency of cupping character. Should quality and consistency reach sufficiently high levels, there is potential for Ugandan Arabica to be sold as single origin coffee, and in any case achieve a considerable premium over its present price.

This project aims to improve the quality and consistency of the Bugisu Arabica crop through establishing a central pulpery and primary processing facilities in the area. In addition, 2,000 farmers will be trained and ultimately certified as organic producers (apart from the 4,000 who already are). Instead of processing their own coffee, farmers will be encouraged to sell their wet cherry to Kawacom who will do the processing themselves. This will have advantages for both sides in that Kawacom will be able to ensure that only ripe cherries are processed, and that the crop is always handled in the same way from harvesting to parchment stage. The advantage for the farmer is that although harvesting technique must be modified to ensure that only red cherries are harvested, they will no longer have to do the processing themselves. Whereas the price paid to farmers for parchment is around 2,100 Shillings per kilo, they will receive around 675 for organically grown cherries. Since cherries are 5-6 times heavier than parchment, this is comparable to a parchment price of around 3,700 shillings i.e. a considerable improvement in smallholder incomes. All farmers in the area will be eligible to work with the project.

The project will require the construction of a central pulpery, with pulpers, fermentation tanks and covered drying racks. Trucks and pickups will be procured to collect the ripe cherries. Farmers will be issued with kits including pruning equipment and tarpaulins, as well as the training materials that they need to convert to fully organic production. Several small tree nurseries (non-coffee) will be established to increase the future supply of firewood and to assist in prevention of erosion.

Follow-on investments after the pilot project will reach twice the level of the project itself, as if this pilot is successful it will be replicated on a larger scale in other growing areas, in addition to being broadened in Kapchorwa.

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