At only 36 years, Antony Welishe is among the few farmers Uganda Coffee Development Authority relies on for planting materials.
PIC: Right from a young age, Antony Welishe, 36, was passionate about farming (Moses Nampala)
Antony Welishe as a little boy, his dream was to become an agronomist. "I had a natural interest and passion for farming," he observes. Although his parents could not raise his school fees to enable him join A-level, his hopes did not fade. He joined farming.
Welishe, a 36-year- old resident of Bukhanakwa, Busano sub-county, Mbale district, is among the few coffee farmers in Elgon region that Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) relies on for Arabic coffee planting materials.
Andrew Muwanga an agronomist, attached to the supervisory department attests that not every coffee farmer qualifies to supply UCDA with coffee seed materials as it entails thorough and elaborate scrutiny.
"The soil PH is one of the parameters considered," Muwanga explians.
He further observes that the few farmers like Welishe, usually have a natural comparative advantage over other farmers.
"There are particular areas around the country endowed with unique soil profiles, soil fertlity conservation using traditional methods among others," he adds.
For as long as Welishe could remember, he admired the coffee crop because of its sumptuous economic returns.
As little boy, recalls how coffee dealers would flock their home with bundles of bank notes, each offering a price slightly higher from of his rival.
The episode was to affirm in his mind that Arabic coffee was actually gold. "It's at such a tender age, that I resolved to commit my energy and attention to grow coffee when I grow up. I am humbled to be among the few farmers who grow Arabic coffee in the country," says a cheerful middle-aged man.
Until you visit his home, somewhere in the remote steep slopes of Wanale hill, you are tempted to presume that his assertion to fame is a pack of lies. Wanale is an imposing hill that located 25km northwards away from Mbale town.
From a distance, Welishe's four-acre Arabic shamba that spreads out on the steep slopes stands out. A stranger to his shamba can't fail to notice the contrast it exudes against the neighboring coffee gardens. The garden patched on a steep hill is all but a breathtaking lash of deep green foliage.
Yet scrutiny of the coffee cherries on each plant reveals a remarkable difference with those of coffee farmers at the neighborhood, in terms of size and quality. "I supply my clients with 8 tonnes of parched Arabica coffee every season," says a primary school teacher with a beaming smile. Parched coffee, is processed dry coffee beans. On the open market, a kilogram of perched Arabic coffee beans goes for sh6,500.
Welishe supplies seedlings to Uganda Coffee Development Board
Born to Vincent Khabala a retired primary school teacher and Florence Namasaba, both of Bukhanakwa village, Busano sub-county Welishe is the third born of out of 10 children. Welishe is married to a fellow teacher Jane Malongo Welishe. The couple is graced with 6 children.
He had wished to pursue education to university but had the dream end because of the meager financial earning of his retired teacher father. After O-level his father convinced him to go for the teaching profession.
But Welishe's passion for farming can be traced when he was a little boy. "He always had a small garden of crops within the reach of the family home, and would devote almost all his time tending to the garden," recalls Namasaba, his mother.
His passion was to become so pronounced when he joined secondary school. Once in senior two, he stunned family members when he successfully started a horticulture project engaged in growing tomatoes, and onions among other.
"At the time I did not afford pesticide but would apply conventional method. I would mix cattle urine, with plants like ‘kamyu' and redpepper that my agricultural teacher had told us about and in the event I would successfully fend off pests from attacking my project," he recalls.
Proceeds accrued from the horticulture project would help him in buying scholastic materials. He did not embark on coffee project until he graduated the teacher training college at Nyondo TTC in Mbale.
How he started
Although he had been lucky to be posted to one of the nearby schools in 2004, he still focused on farming as a sector where he would forge a future.
During his second year of teaching in 2005, he was put on pay roll. "From that time I would spend virtually all my salary on procuring coffee seedlings," he recalls.
He had sought a salary loan of sh4m and acquired a 2 acre portion of land and not only planted coffee in it but applied all the necessary farming practice.
In 2010, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) scouts had spotted him. After careful scrutiny of samples of his yields, he was pronounced accredited Arabic coffee seed supplier to UCDA.
Since then, his thriving coffee garden has attracted dozens and dozens of specialist from within and outside the country.
But you consider Welishe too lucky if not privileged. "I'm harvesting 8000 Kg of coffee every year," he says with a grin. At a price of sh.10, 000 per Kg he sells to UCDA, his earnings adds up sh.80m.
A rough estimate of sh3 millions goes to pesticides while another 7 million goes to a labour force of 10 people he has since recruited to tend to his coffee plantation annually.
The rest of the money is saved in the bank for personal development projects. At the moment he constructing his residential house. He has since acquired 4 acres of land and he is also considering to construct commercial houses in the nearby economically viable trading centres. "I equally want to expound on my dairy farm enterprise.
Settling down with Welishe for chat, he is quick to confess that maintaining the quality of his coffee plantation is no easy task as he heavily relies on organic manure.
"What makes my coffee garden distinct from others is just a concept I obtained from my secondary school agriculture teacher at Mbale senior secondary," explains Welishe.
Using organic manure
During lessons he would dwell much on the importance of organic mature and how to make it.
"If there is anybody who took his tips seriously then it is me," says Welishe who obtained a D1 in Agriculture at O-level. However, Werishe's secret behind his success is simple.
"Many coffee farmers have failed to understand the secret behind a coffee crop. But, ideally after the first harvest, each coffee plant is capable of sustaining itself in terms of nutrients," observes Welishe. Welishe uses the fresh husks pulped from his coffee harvest as manure for the shamba. To the centrally, most other coffee farmers either dry the coffee and sell the husks with them or sell the coffee fresh, still with the husks. Welishe says that this is a very big mistake.
"Why should a coffee farmer waste tonnage and tonnages of manure that would have maintained his coffee plant by selling his coffee fresh to a dealer," he wonders. Welishe muses, that he picks a fight with whoever wants to take his fresh coffee husks obtained from coffee he has pulped.
Coffee pulping means obtaining Arabica coffee beans from the fresh husk. The process is done by a hand pulping device. Welishe bought his at sh350,000. For Welishe pulping gives him two advantages. The first is that the value of his coffee bean rises by at least sh3, 000 from sh2, 500 to sh6, 500, while the other is that he gets the husks and uses them as manure on the farm. According to Welishe after pulping, he collects all the fresh coffee husks and depots it a wide 20 feet pit for a period of a year.
"After a year, the husks have not only been drained of the acidic content that is dangerous to any crop but have crumbled into fine crisps of dark soils (manure) that I scoop and deposit around every coffee plant," he explains.
Sometimes, the composite pit where fresh coffee husks are deposited is complemented with other organic matters, like cow dung, domestic waste, livestock urine. It is then buried in the pit for over 3months. After this, it is ready for application.
The organic manure application on the farm usually sees him hire a work force of 10 people, each being paid a wage of sh3000 per day.
The exercise usually lasts for a period of a week costing him a total wage bill of sh300, 000. According to Welishe, application involves digging between the rows of coffee plants and then deposits the composite manure in the pits, before covering. Because the coffee plants are healthy, they are rarely haunted with pests.
But even when the coffee looks good, he takes other measures to make it better. "I don't take chances, spraying exercise is usually carried out in the month of February each year," Welishe explains. Spraying costs sh700, 000. He normally uses Azadirachtin. Other pesticides include, Biodepost, cooper nodics, marshal 250 EC, among others.
The month of April, usually see him embarking on pruning as well as care full scrutiny of the each plant for any traces of pests, such as coffee berry bowler. The exercise usually cost him sh800,000.
In the month of May, he buys heaps of stock of beans from the community around which he uses in mulching the coffee garden. "Mulching the coffee garden saves me from expenses of weeding," explains Welishe. He usually spends sh500, 000 on the mulching exercise.
When the harvest exercise begins in the month of August, he hires a labor force 20 people.
"A section of the labor force picks the coffee, while the others carry out pulping whatever is harvested in a day," says Welishe who has to physically supervise the exercise. He usually has a wage bill of sh2.5m.
Because UCDA relies on him to supply coffee seedlings, he ensures that fresh coffee is pulped, before it is thoroughly scrutinized using the floating method. Floating method entails stashing fresh beans in a utensil, before filling it with water. "Usually fresh beans of poor quality float while the good quality seeds stay down," he explains.
He is compelled to remove the few cherries that float and throw them away as waste. The next step, would be stashing the good quality coffee cherries in a hand pulping machine that he has since acquired.
Once the coffee is pulped, it is washed clean and spread on strong polythene mats for a few days until it dries. When coffee has dried, he contacts the authorities of UCDA to come and collect it.
"I am constructing myself a dream house, which I will complete soon," says Welishe. He is also ably looking after his family with no stress.
Additionally, he has also expanded his land ownership from just half an acre when he started to 11 acres today. "I have since bought 11 acres of land around the village, which I plan to use as expansion of my coffee garden," explains Welishe. Additionally, he has acquired dairy two cows to add to his income from coffee. His dream is to acquire a piece of land in the business centre of Mbale town.
His biggest challenge, has always since he got in this business has always been transport. The poor road infrastructure in this remote and hilly part of the country side has always been an inconvenience, especially during rainy season as the wet soil becomes too sticky.
About Arabica Coffee
Arabic coffee is a traditional cash crop grown in unique country side that lies in a high attitude. In the eastern Uganda its mainly grown in the Elgon region that lies in mountain Elgon ranges Bugisu and sabiny region. Bugisu/ elgon region is constituted of districts of Mbale, Bulambuli, Manafwa, Sironko, and Bududa while the sabiny (sebei region) is composed of Bukwo kapchorwa and Kween. While in the western Uganda the crop in grown in the Rwenzori region.
According to Elizabeth Namakoyi an employee of UCDA Mbale branch stresses that arabica coffee is grown in specific regions of the country with special soil variables.
Seed bed preparation
A farmer in the above mentioned regions is obliged to prepare a portion of land under a shed. "It's would be prudent enough for a farmer to have done efforts of conserving its fertility using organic manure," stresses Namakoyi.
Before planting the seeds in the seed bed, a farmer is advised to soak the seeds for a period of 3 days then proceeds to plant. The farmer would be compelled to irrigate the bed regularly.
Usually the coffee seedling would spout out fully after a period of between 31-42 days. However after ought to wait until the seedlings have developed 4 leaves the chore of potting is embarked on.
After the seedlings have been potted and carefully put under a bed shed, a farmer ought to tend to them for a period of 4 months, irrigation not with standing before the seedling would be ready for transplanting. "The ideal transplanting ought to be done when the seedlings have eight leaves," she stresses.
It takes two years for coffee to become mature.
What people say
Elizabeth Namakoyi admits that Anthony Welishe is among their
coffee seed supplier. "He is among our outstanding coffee seed suppliers in the region," she says.
Erukana Mwambu, a neighbour says Welishe has been an inspiring icon in the village. "He is such a selfless chap who freely shares his experience in coffee farming with whoever seeks his mind on a challenge," colnfesses Mwambu who has since borrowed a leaf from welishe on soil fertility conservation.
Enock Nagimesi considers welishe an asset. "Previously, I would leave my coffee plantation to get wild and I hardly considered the chore of weeding as important. However when I started pruning, weeding, and pestcide application on the advice of welishe, my yields in the two subsequent seasons have almost tripled," he says with a grin.