Coffee Camp 2017

By Michał Matejczuk
Oct. 31, 2017

The Mt. Elgon region is home to the world famous Arabica coffee of Uganda. The region comprises seven coffee-growing districts which include Kapchorwa, Bulambuli, Sironko, Mbale, Manafwa, Bududa and Namisindwa. 

Despite its importance to the regional and national economy, the coffee industry suffers from the low perception of agriculture as a poor man’s trade that offers no prospects beyond subsistence earnings. For that reason, the coffee trade is seen as incapable of ending the cycle of poverty. In early October, 2017, Peace Corps Volunteers working with coffee sector stakeholders decided to organize a Coffee Entrepreneurship Camp in Mbale, located in Eastern Uganda, to empower young leaders to engage in the development of this important industry.

Over 70 youth participated in the camp. The participants were mostly students from local academic institutions. Over half were female. Over the course of five days, they learned how the coffee industry in Uganda operates, and camp organizers invited experts from the farming and financial industries to share their insights with the youth.

The first day of camp covered coffee certification schemes, the process of exporting coffee, and how to mitigate climate change through improving agricultural practices. Also covered that first day was the emerging practice of apiculture as one of the programs supporting coffee production throughout Mt. Elgon. On the second day, the group took a field trip to a small-scale organic farm where participants were able to observe the entire coffee value chain from crop husbandry in the fields to coffee processing using traditional method of roasting over a charcoal stove. In addition, participants practiced coffee roasting, grinding, packaging, and labeling.  The coffee cupping practicum provided an opportunity to conduct an evaluation to determine coffee premiums as well as to identify quality issues arising from drying, storage, and even fermentation. The day ended with a tour of a very large coffee factory with a high economic and historical significance in the regional coffee trade.

Peace Corps Volunteers facilitating a business plan session.jpg
Peace Corps Volunteers facilitate a business plan session

The development of strategic goals, construction of business plans, and financial literacy was the subject of discussion the third day. Participants learned how to procure funds from local entrepreneurs, consultants, and financial institutions. The fourth day was particularly colorful as it saw an entire neighborhood turned into a “Coffee Lane.” With the permission of local authorities, participants were able to clean a former waste site and divide it according to their respective coffee districts. They proceeded to plant over 150 coffee trees and give visibility to coffee as the pride of Mbale. The day’s session ended with a barista training by Uganda’s National Barista Champion, who helped promote a better understanding of coffee products and services in the industry.

Discussions on hospitality, entrepreneurship, and leadership were the highlights of the final day when each district was required to pitch their business idea to the group. Upon completion of the camp, participants were expected to implement their business plans in their respective districts.

The camp was really educative and the ideas which were shared in the camp really helped me. I have managed to implement one, and that is coffee tree planting and growing. I have so far planted 100 coffee trees, adding onto the 300 which I already had. In addition to that, I am using organic fertilizers to produce good, fair and clean coffee. I plan that after 10 years from now I’ll be the leading producer of coffee in my sub-county.

The camp ended with several speakers expressing renewed optimism about the future of the coffee industry in the region. The general conclusion was that despite the current generation’s challenges with this once vibrant industry, young people seem well-poised to build on the past achievement to bring the coffee industry to its true potential. All the participants left the camp equipped with the skills, techniques, and energy to make a difference in the Mt. Elgon region and beyond.

Our gratitude to the following individuals, institutions, and public authorities (in no particular order) who were responsible for the success of the camp:

Saleh Naminya (Eco Shamba - Casa Del Turista), Islamic University in Uganda, Uganda Christian University, Mbale Secondary School, Slow Food Uganda, Olam International, Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd, Bugisu Cooperative Union, DFCU, Africa Coffee Academy, Uganda Coffee Development Authority, NUCAFE, Endiro Coffee, Magolofa Farms, United Coffee Growers Association, Rose’s Last Chance Resort, Mt. Elgon Tour Guides, Mbale Municipal Local Government and the countless entrepreneurs and employees that made this camp a success.

Michał Matejczuk