By Paul Busharizi
PEREZI Muhindo thought her life was over when in 1996 her husband was cut down by hail of bullets. An ADF rebel in the DRC, he left behind a young widow, suckling babies and no prospects for his young family in the jungles of Congo.
“I had no solution in mind. I came to Uganda with no hope. My world had crushed around me,” says Munindo, 46.
She returned to Uganda to try and eke out a living on half acre piece of land on the Ugandan slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Uganda a few years before had broken up the state produce marketing boards and opened the market to private coffee buyers. So Muhindo thought a few coffee trees on her plot would bring in much needed revenue.
But coffee was time consuming, back breaking and as unintended consequence of the liberalised market, a poorly paying endeavour.
“I sold coffee at the cheapest prices, prices were not stable and drying coffee was not easy, it took us a minimum of one month. I wasted a lot of time. As if that was not enough, I mortgaged my coffee at the flowering stage and could hardly harvest any for myself,” she adds.
Just when she was contemplating cutting down her coffee trees, she came in contact with Rwenzori Fine Coffee, a company whose vision was to capture more value by processing instant coffee in Uganda and exporting it to western markets. By capturing a bigger portion of the value-chain, the company hoped to raise farmer incomes, create more jobs and get a premium price for its coffee.
The company now called Good African Coffee (GAC), showed up to 14,000 farmers how to wet process their Arabica coffee, handle it better to avoid wastage and provided a ready market for their crop.
“Through wet processing, my coffee now has value. I almost harvest the same volume of coffee but get a better pay now,” Muhindo said, explaining that last season she received sh11,000 per kilo of coffee compared to the best price she ever got previously of sh1,800 a kilo.
GAC organised the farmers into groups of 50, providing each group with coffee hurling machine and constituted them into Savings and Credit Cooperatives to integrate them into the formal financial sector, part of what it considers its corporate social responsibility.
Since its inception in 2005, GAC has had the 14,000 farmers organically certified, opened a roasting and packing factory in Kampala, won shelf space in UK retailers Waitrose and Tesco’s – distinguishing itself as the first African brand to be roasted and packed at source and sold to major retailers in the UK.
And this year GAC proprietor Andrew Rugasira is taking his farmers on a new adventure.
In March, GAC made tentative steps to break into the US market by selling online before going into retail stores.
America’s $20b coffee drinking market is a mouthwatering proposition for any seller of the beverage.
As a model for poverty eradication GAC’s business model is hard to fault.
“As I talk now I have sh2,780,000 as saving on my SACCO account. I am a rich man. I had never saved this before in my life as a farmer; this is a big achievement to me. Our SACCO has savings amounting to sh18,245,488, a loan portfolio of sh12,445970, and share capital of sh2,151,440,” says Exevier Baluku Bwanandeke, a father of seven in Maliba sub-county.
Rugasira who has dabbled in event promotion, real estate development and several other businesses previously, sees a larger purpose to his business approach.
“Agriculture in Uganda obviously represents huge potential for the country. We are blessed with not only fertile soils but also with conducive climatic conditions. If we can make affordable long-term capital available for the sector and shift the bias against funding agriculture, provide the appropriate technologies and knowhow for our farmers, then we could became a food basket for the region. Through modernising agriculture, we have the best chance of transforming our economy,” he said.
Good African Coffee: From Kasese hills to American malls