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Arabica coffee: Changing many farmers’ fortunes

TCB said 14,120 60-kg bags were offered at the latest sale and that 12,618 bags were sold. At the previous auction, a total of 9,430 60-kg bags went up for sale, with 7,969 bags sold. TCB said coffee prices declined last week due to a fall in arabica prices at the world market.

At the local level, there are farmers who have benefitted from trading these varieties, having started with dealing in other crops like maize.

Mr Mugisha Peter, a farmer in Muleba, Kagondo village, produces mainly Arabica and some robusta coffee. In an interview with ‘Business Standard’, he said that when he dropped out of school in 1994, he thought that was the end of his life.

Mr Mugisha’s father had died in 1980 when he was seven years old and his mother was unable to continue paying his school fees. Given that he comes from one of the renowned coffee growing areas, his light at the end of the channel came when he joined the coffee business.

He says the rich soil, good humidity, sufficient rainfall and correct temperatures made it easier for perfect cultivation conditions. That year, the price of coffee was at 16/- per kilo. However, in 1992 the price shot up to over 40/- per kilo. From the small plot of land of a quarter an acre, he inherited from his father, he planted 15 Arabic coffee trees and continued to trade in coffee. In 1995, he planted 100 more trees of coffee.

He earned 30,000/- which he used to maintain his coffee trees well and harvested good yields. “I used the profits to buy more land and expand my coffee farm to the current 1,000 trees,” he says. Last year, he was among the top 10 suppliers to Karagwe Development Cooperative Union (KDCU).

There are Six coffee markets for farmers like him. The Internal market – where farmers sale at farm gate price to private coffee buyers, farmer groups and cooperative. Coffee is sold in form of cherry or parchment. The Auction – Coffee auctions are conducted every week on Thursdays during the season (usually nine months).

Licenced exporters come to the auction and buy coffee from suppliers who can be individual farmers, groups, and cooperative or from private buyers and direct export. Growers of premium top grade coffees are allowed to bypass the auction and
sell their coffee directly.

Direct exports enables growers to establish long term relationship with roasters and international traders. He says he last year harvested 114,430kg and was pleased with his progress. “I started with 15 coffee trees in a space that would otherwise be useless and my effort is paying off,” he says. To plant Arabica coffee, one has to consider the altitude of the land and the soil type. The higher the altitude, the better the quality of the beans and taste.

“Arabica coffee grows best at an altitude of 1,200m to 2,000m above sea level,” according to a website for TACRI the organisation behind this huge task is the Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (Tacri), an institute which was set up in September 2001 to kick-start the industry.

It says that for successful production, a free draining system of one meter in depth is required. Identify and prepare the land, prepare the holes at a spacing of 2.4m x 2.4m. The holes should have a diameter and depth 2ft. Use healthy plants with dark green, well-formed foliage.

Arabica coffee is ready for harvesting three years after planting. But when the plants have spent about 10 years, it is recommended that one cuts them down so that new ones sprout. Unless trees are renewed, yields will decline over the following years. Yields will average 650kg of parchment bean per acre depending on management.

The branches of his coffee bushes
are laden with the bright red berries from which coffee beans are harvested, showing that this particular variety is flourishing. Coffee prices have been at historically low levels, driving many smallholders in Tanzania to subsistence farming or to grow other more profitable crops like flowers.

Tanzania also has a trump card in that it is one of only three coffee producing countries in the world which grows Colombian Mild, which is a highly prized Arabica bean; the other two are Kenya and Colombia. “Arabica is a finer coffee bean than the more common Robusta variety and as a result it gets a better price on the world market. So even if we do not produce as much coffee as Cote d’Ivoire or Cameroon, we can still have a highly profitable industry,” says TaCRI , adding that the e demand from Tanzania’s two biggest export markets, Germany and Japan is growing stronger.

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Author: ORTON KIISHWEKO

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