The “Next Frontier” of Coffee: A Visit to Uganda
Earlier this year, our co-founders Mickey and Robbyn had the opportunity to travel to Africa to attend the African Fine Coffee Conference (AFCA) in Kampala, Uganda and to visit the Gumutindo co-op where our newest seasonal coffee is produced. Although the purpose of the trip was to attend the forum and explore different regions in Uganda and Tanzania, it represented much more than that. It also provided an opportunity to reconnect with old acquaintances, discover new quality coffees and lay the groundwork for potential partnerships in the future.
The African Fine Coffee Conference is a global gathering of various international development firms and research organizations from throughout the world, with the purpose of sharing ideas and knowledge around sustainable coffee farming practices. At the conference, Mickey and Robbyn were able to meet up with old connections, and meet some new ones including Kathryn Noltie from the UK social and economic development agency, Twin Trading. Twin is affiliated with JMI, which collaborates with African coffee farmer co-operatives, and helped to fund the Gumutindo co-op.
After the conference, Mickey and Robbyn travelled to Gumutindo; there they spent time with the farmers and co-op managers, shared knowledge and gained insight into the co-op’s production and quality control processes. Gumutindo, like other co-ops, is made up of primary societies. It started started out with 4 primary societies, one of which is Busamaga.
The growth and evolution of the co-op is just incredible – there are now over 16 primary societies, with 11,000 farmers. Each farmer is allotted 1/4 hectare each – as you can imagine, when multiplied by the thousands, it amounts to a huge amount of land. The co-op operates on the “strength in numbers” principle: it can collectively accomplish much more, including developing quality control structures, and marketing.
Through the connections of the people they met at the conference, Mickey and Robbyn effectively had the “door” of Uganda opened for them. They only travelled in the eastern part of the country, but while at the conference, they discovered the Bukonzo Joint cooperative in western Uganda. Although there is still much work to do in achieving consistency in this coffee, there is also a massive opportunity. The sample Mickey and Robbyn tried scored at an 85 point grade, and this score can only increase as process and quality improvements continue to be made.
These two hardworking gentlemen have been farming since the 1950s.
This trip also provided a glimpse into the warmth, grace and resourcefulness of the people in Uganda. There is a colourful vibrance and richness to the Ugandan culture. What’s more, Mickey and Robbyn were able to uncover the “next frontier” of coffee: an emerging coffee-producing country with rapidly increasing quality standards. Exciting partnership opportunities for Salt Spring Coffee are on the horizon.
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