From the Nyasaland Arabica of Mount Elgon, intercropped with ginger and lemongrass, to the Nganda Robusta promoted by the youngsters of Bukunja, to the Kisansa of Luwero, in the Zirobwe district, which grows in the shade of forest trees: the numerous Ugandan food communities that grow traditional coffees and not just ‘coffee for export’ will meet in Mukono on February 18th for the ‘From Tree to Cup’ festival.
Traditional coffee production in Uganda means agroforestry, with the coffee being intercropped with fruit trees (especially banana trees of many different varieties) and in the perennial shade of trees such as the cordia africana, the ficus and the markhamia. From this perfectly balanced system we draw all the resources we need to survive.
From the late 19th century to the present day, successive governments and foreign investors have pushed for the introduction of new hybrid varieties with higher production yields and high pest-resistance that has caused much of the local diversity to be replaced by a few intensively farmed varieties of Robusta coffee (Coffee canephora).
Slow Food is working to protect the rich heritage of biodiversity that remains in Uganda.
In 2012 it launched the Luwero Kisansa Coffee Presidium to protect a native variety on the verge of extinction, teaching producers to improve the quality of their coffee, organize themselves into a cooperative, and become conscious players in a new local economy. As it has gradually grown over the years, Slow Food Uganda has performed painstaking mapping work on native coffee varieties in more than 20 districts, seeking to spread the word about a national treasure most people are unaware of. Visits have been made to many farming communities that grow traditional or local varieties (Nganda, Nyasaland and Kilimanjaro) to raise awareness of biodiversity, encourage them to resist market pressure, provide them with technical training and teach them to network.
One such community is Mihale Tubana (which, in the Luganda language means ‘The Mihale villagers stay together’) in the Mbale district at the foot of Mount Elgon. Here they grow Nyasaland, a Geisha-type variety of the Arabica Coffee which, after being introduced from Ethiopia via Malawi (known as Nyasaland at the time), adapted to the volcanic soils and mountain climate of the area, which is on the border with Kenya. The large elongated cherries are cultivated by about 40 men and women with great care and attention to the health of the plants (interspersed with rows of ginger and lemongrass, both potent pesticides, and fertilized with natural manure) and the environment of fruit trees and family gardens immersed in lush vegetation.
The young producers of Bukunja form another active group. Here the plants of Nganda coffee, a variety of Robusta, grow wild in the Kigimba forest at an altitude of about 1,200 meters. Rich in caffeine with berries that have a high sugar content when ripe—hence especially popular with small children, who pick them fresh from the plants—the variety has been preserved for generations, even in the darkest periods of the country’s recent history. The community has even built a pulper with hollow tree trunks and sheet metal, emulating their grandparents before them, who used ingenious makeshift methods to protect their tradition and their coffee harvest in the days of dictatorship and civil war.
At Netete, 21 beekeepers and coffee growers make a popular and delicious energy snack by coating roasted coffee beans with honey.
The work of these and many other communities will be presented at the ‘From Tree to Cup’ festival, which will be held on February 18th in the old playground of the Uganda Christian University (UCU) in Mukono.
Visitors will be able to explore the coffee production chain at a Slow Food producers’ market as well as through tastings, workshops, meetings and so on. There will be explanations of cultivation methods and advice will be provided on methods for good harvest selection. There will also be talks on artisan roasting and infusion, how to create a sustainable supply chain for environment and producers alike, and developing sales relations to create greater visibility for local coffee farmers and roasters.
Local consumption of coffee produced in Uganda is low and most of the crop is exported. The aim of the festival is thus to teach Ugandan consumers about their traditional coffees and how to enjoy them, as well as to explain all the work Slow Food Uganda is doing to protect food biodiversity and the right to good, clean, fair food.
For more information about the “From Tree to Cup” Coffee Festival, contact:
tel. +256 778628671
Since 2010 Slow Food has been developing a Presidium Coffee trademark in conjunction with Italian coffee roasters and producers in the Global South. Luwero Kisansa coffee was presented to the public at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016 by Roberto Messineo (Caffè San Domenico) and a representative of Equoqui, a coffee importer in Alba.
For more information about the Slow Food Coffee Presidium project: https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/it/cosa-facciamo/i-presidi/i-presidi-del-caffe/.