By Vique-Ocean Kahinju
Regina Sunyu, 52, a mother of six, is an exception. Not because this resident of Mwaro, Karambi parish in Kisoro district is growing a crop other people have not grown, but because she chose to do it differently. In an era where most coffee growers are using inorganic herbicides and fertilisers, Sunyu is focusing on organic coffee farming.
“After my Senior Four, there was no money to enable me go for further studies. But I did not despair because I had a plan to go into farming,” Sunyu says. “I thought since coffee played an important role in the national economy, accounting to almost 35% of the country’s export revenue, it was the only breakthrough I could count on. And since there was a two-acre family land at my disposal, I decided to use this to grow coffee and earn a living, and I have never regretted my decision,” she adds.
How she started
A coffee seedling nursery bed
Sunyu started planting coffee in 2004. After training for eight months and attaining a certificate in organic farming practices in the UK, she discovered that this type of farming was not only a superior approach to crop growing, but also a cheap practice as a farmer did not have to spend on pesticides and fertilisers which could be made locally using organic material.
Sunyu got coffee seedlings from a nearby dealer and planted them. She says organic farming is also a safe way to stay healthy by both the farmer and consumer as purely organic farm materials are used thus no side effects. “The environment as well is safe from the damage caused by chemical sprays.
Organic manure also promotes the growth of natural organisms in the soil boosting the growth of coffee plants,” Sunyu explains. Globally, people are increasingly becoming mindful about their health, which gives organic food high demand on both the local and international market, she further says. “As part of organic farming programme, I carry out inter-cropping, where I grow coffee on the same plot of land with fruit trees.
The trees also provide timber. I use energy– saving stoves for cooking,” she adds. Sunyu also makes organic manure and pesticides out of natural materials.
Making organic manure
Some of the raw materials she uses are animal urine, water, red chillies, wood ash, plant herbs such as marigold, Phytolaca and garlic or onions. Once all the ingredients are mixed, they are left to ferment for 14 days and then used for spraying coffee plants to protect them from diseases and pests that devour the leaves and beans. The sprays are made cheaply and are purely organic as there are no traces of chemicals in the manufacturing process that ought to cause side–effects to the farmer or the coffee consumers.
Manure is also produced from animal droppings, leftover food and food peelings which are collected. In a composite pit where they are left to decompose for over 21 days before they are used to fertilise the coffee plants. Though organic farming is so demanding and not easy to sustain, it is worth the effort since it ensures safety for the farmer, consumer and the environment while giving high yields and proceeds.
Ready market Higher
She sprays the coffee plantation to get rid of pests
Higher export prices are the first step towards securing higher incomes for farmers, Sunyu stresses. “Organic coffee commands higher prices in on the international market compared to conventional or premium coffee,” she says. “I often get seedlings and sensitisation on how to go about quality coffee production from Uganda Coffee Development Authority.
The organisation sends field officers to train me further in new organic coffee innovations. “I have over 400 coffee trees
that yield 1.3 kg of coffee beans, translating into over 540 kgs of coffee per season.” She sells her coffee to Urth Café in the US and Great Lakes Company in Kampala, with the help of Mountain Gorilla Organic Coffee Association in Kisoro.
As a result, she earns at least sh8m from a single season’s sales after all expenses are offset. This has enabled her to fend for her children by providing them with basic needs such as school fees, medication, clothing and shelter.
Organic coffee farming has also set her apart from the rest of the coffee farmers in Kisoro district. “For instance, it has given me the privilege to train other farmers through Mountain Gorilla Organic Coffee Association, job, that has got me a lot of benefits. “I have a car, a house and have bought land on which to grow food crops like maize and irish potatoes. I also rear cows, pigs, goats, sheep and chicken,” she explains.