We are pleased to be partnering up with Omwani and Agri Evolve on the launch of their seedling nursery project in Uganda. Our new Trust coffee, Midnight Flyer, will directly support this initiative, providing access for coffee farmers in the Rwenzori mountains to high quality coffee seedlings.

Project Overview

The Rwenzori mountains are home to many smallholders who grow coffee. The landscape is tricky to work with; the steep slopes and lack of proper roads bring added difficulties for some producers. Agri Evolve has already provided the area with amenities to improve coffee production such as water pumps for processing the coffee, and setting up local buying centres to bridge the often long distances to the washing stations. They also provide vital training to help producers get the most out of their crops, thus increasing quality and productivity. 

But there are more improvements to be made in this region. Agri Evolve noticed that many producers have a good amount of land with no trees, and they often come across 50 year old unproductive trees that grow large and take up space, but sadly do not provide many coffee cherries in return. It turned out that producers were reluctant to replace or plant new trees due to the quality of the seedlings that were available to them. The Ugandan government has its own seedling distribution scheme in an attempt to help producers increase their harvests, but they are of bad quality and rarely survive once planted. 

This is where our new Trust coffee comes in. We are pledging an extra 45p for every kilo we’ve purchased of this coffee to kick off this project. We will also be hosting a cupping event at our café in Penryn, with all donations from ticket sales contributing directly. We aim to raise a total of £1090, the total amount needed to kickstart the project.

Price Breakdown

  • Seedling Subsidy £667. For a nursery of 5000 seedlings, with a cost of 13.3p per seedling.
  • Bed Construction-  £333. This amount will cover the tools and labour needed to create a hospitable nursery where coffee seedlings will be raised for 9 months, at which point the young trees are considered mature enough to be planted in farms.
  • Nursery Equipment - £90. £90 is enough money for tools such as potting bags, watering cans, trowels, hoes, wheel barrows, gloves, and the all-important seeds.

Courtney, our Head Of Coffee, sat down on a call with Beth and Agnes, Project Managers at Agri-Evolve. 

Interview with Beth & Agnes - Project Managers / Agri Evolve

Courtney: We know one of the biggest problems in this region is not having good quality seedlings widely available. Do you choose particular varieties that you know have a better survival rate in the climate there?

Agnes: Our approach with the seedlings is that we use a community best approach whereby we establish nurseries within the communities where there is need for them and where we have identified that this is a place that has potential. So what do we do? We work with the farmers in the area. We identify a person who is going to be in charge of managing the nursery bed. That person has to have a good record in the community, is trusted by the community - as bringing services to the farmers is very important to us. Of course, our main interest is looking at the coffee farmers. We have standard operating procedures that we shall follow, both the nursery operator together with Agri-Evolve.

We have two varieties that we are promoting, that's SL14 and SL28, whereby the 28 goes at a high altitude and SL14 is for the lowlands. So we have to make sure that right from the start, before we raise the nursery bed, the altitude is very clear and this is where we shall put such and such a variety. So for the varieties it's determined by the altitude, and we have both farmers at both altitude and low and high altitude. So we realize we find it very easy to raise the seedlings there, distribute them to the farmers, because we want to improve productivity and also want to ensure that they have the best quality seedlings that will improve their yield, consequently also helping us in having more coffee that we can buy and sell to you. So it's a two-way thing have the right quality, have the right person to work with, have the right altitude for the coffee. The we provide technical support until we raise the seedling for nine months in the nursery bed and get ready for planting in the seeds. 

Courtney: My next question would be what the response from the community is. Did the producers identify the problem and ask for help with the seedlings, or is this something that you (Agri-Evolve) have looked from the outside and seen oh, there's a problem here that we can help with. What's the response been from the local farmers?

Agnes: When you visit the producers here in the Rwenzori mountains, you realize there's a lot of aged trees, very old trees, and what we are doing is we are advocating for new planting. In the last few years we've done this, farmers have really adopted these new and improved varieties, because they are easy to maintain and able to be rewarded for their harvest more quickly than before, because the old, aged trees now no longer produce coffee cherries. So we are focusing on new planting. Then demand comes.

We always do assessments on the farms. The field team is on ground, interacting with the farmers, identifying those areas. And once we have those requests, we know that such and such an area needs new farmers, needs new seedlings, then they have adopted new planting. It's very difficult to tell them to cut their old trees down. Those old trees have given them coffee all their life, so it’s is very difficult. So they find it easier to do new planting. So new planting is working for us. But the need comes from the farmer and the field team is always hands on to identify those needs. So it informs us in programming and knowing such and such an area, we need to put this. If it's higher altitude, we target the nursery fed up there with SL28 as a variety to put there. If it's lower, you put the 14.

Courtney: Do they get advice on improving their knowledge of how to grow the coffee as they are working with these varieties that they are not used to or they might not have had before. Do you advise on best practices, how to improve yield and that kind of thing?

Agnes: That's our 100% focus, we believe these are new varieties that they are adopting and so within our team we have agronomists who are always advising them with good agronomic practices. Right from the start, when we distribute the seedlings, we don't just stop there. The actual work actually begins after distribution. The team is hands on to ensure that the farmer plants with the right spacing, puts the best good agronomic practices on the farm It's the responsibility of the field officer to ensure that this farmer has all the support that he or she needs to ensure that they are taking care of their farm and looking after it properly. In case of any advice they need, they reach out to us on our toll free lines, and we send out our field officers. So it's a hands on process that we do to ensure that they improve their yield in order to improve productivity as our overall objective. 

Courtney: To get a sense of scale, is there a timeline for this project from start to finish?

Beth: If we were starting from scratch from the beginning including acquiring the seed, actually harvesting the seed to create the seedling, and the end being distributing to the farmers, planting would be one year. Nine months is spent in the nursery bed but the months before that is harvesting and preparing the seeds, germinating them and then plant planting into the nursery. So overall you're looking at a year if you start from the very, very beginning. The other option is not starting from the very beginning but getting existing seedlings or buying existing seedlings that we're really happy with and then continuing with advice and technical assistance. 

The other we are looking at is demand in different areas. We'd maybe have two seasons of a nursery bed in one place, and then we could move it to another place to service another region. The problem is you could build a nursery bed based on our factory site but then you've got huge costs in transport to distribute the seedlings, or you could build one way up the mountain and then you've got a bit more challenge in monitoring the seedlings regularly. The preference is that we have the nursery bed in the same place where the coffee is going to be planted, then we can move the nursery if necessary.

In the past we've also done a shade tree nursery bed, then after two years we then put coffee there alongside, so in that sense also you have to look at how permanent the structure should be, if it should be permanent or if it should be a bit less complicated and just be simple, and something that can then be used for space could be utilised for something else after. So there's a few different options, we're very open and flexible and  ultimately we just want to do what's best for the farmers.

Courtney: I know James mentioned that there's some really old trees there that are not productive, 50 years old in some cases. Is there a recommended period of time where you would suggest to the farmer to replace that tree now with a younger tree?

Beth: In places like Brazil and Colombia they replace trees after 12 years or so. But here, the majority of the trees are old because the farming style is not commercial at all. As Agnes mentioned, it's very difficult to convince a farmer to chop a tree down, even if it's showing just a few cherries or a little bit of production. So often we advise them to stump the trees in blocks or in sections of the farm. So if they stump or uproot, then they plant new seedlings and then, as the new seedlings grow,  maybe the next year or the year after that they'll stump another section or uproot another section. The first time we stumped trees, the whole community came and watched because they were like, oh my god, what are you doing? So it's a relatively new thing to do.

Agnes: So they would rather maintain those old trees than get another plot and do new planting. It's not easy.

We look forward to tracking the progress of the project over the coming months. 

February 05, 2024