COVID-19 | MARKETS | INPUTS
As the lockdown in the country persists, farmers are likely to make more losses at the post-harvest stage due to lack of access to markets or buyers.
Already those into poultry, banana and dairy farming are counting losses due to limited movement to some of their selling points and the lack of equipment for value addition so as to increase the shelf life of the food items.
The same is likely to affect coffee farmers who are already harvesting the coffee but may not have adequate storage and drying facilities, as they wait for buyers.
Currently, there is limited movement of traders or buyers of most agriculture-related produce due to the lockdown that was announced by the President as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
In the process, the product may develop molds that affect the quality in terms of the aroma, and quality of coffee beans, hence reducing the price of the coffee, once a buyer appears.
For such farmers to survive the lockdown, they should form or join groups that have proper storage facilities and are linked to off-takers, for collective marketing.
The call was made by the president of the Uganda Coffee Federation, Robert Wagwa Nsibirwa in a telephone interview.
"Farmers are encouraged to form or join farmer groups that enable them to leverage resources and also do bulk and joint marketing. In times like these, such efforts come in handy," Nsibirwa said.
Nsibirwa adds that because they have been operating as individuals, they may not have the capacity to access liquidity from financial institutions to buy equipment needed on their farms like drying and storage facilities from financial institutions.
"The processors too have slowed down and are processing at a less capacity because of restricted movements, while some have closed, which makes it even harder for coffee farmers harvesting now to maintain the quality till the buyer appears," he added.
Ongoing efforts among stakeholders
To further help coffee farmers, Nsibirwa said engagements with the government and Uganda Coffee Development Authority are ongoing, to allow coffee processors and exporters to continue during the lockdown.
Nsibirwa, who was in February this year, recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Africa Fine Coffees Association (AFCA), adds that in the lockdown, the sector is faced with challenges with the speed of processing documents; factory workers' accommodation; and the volume of deliveries, among others.
He was awarded for supporting coffee enterprises as well as initiatives that lead to socio-economic change, development, and sustainability.
Benefits of coffee groups
Joseph Nkandu, the executive director of the National Union of Coffee and Agribusiness Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE) adds that when farmers form groups, they not only market together but monitor each other so as to maintain the quality of coffee beans needed by the off-takers.
"Farmers in groups are also exposed to training on how to prepare for disasters which include post-harvest management and proper storage of the crop to keep it safe from all forms of contamination,", adds Nkandu.
He adds that for farmers under his leadership, they have embraced the farmer ownership modal, where a farmer takes part in the entire value chain so as to better manage the crop that used to be major foreign income earner to the country, followed by tourism, although the trend seems to have changed with COVID 19 outbreak.
Amos Kasige, a coffee exporter from the Edge Coffee exporting company adds that in such a crisis, with limited movement, farmers' groups are easier to monitor, and support in form of post-harvest handling technologies like tarpaulins. They also make it easy to trace a product once a buyer notices an issue through farmer leaders.
"In such a time, as an exporter, you mainly engage a farmer leader to give up to date information about his or her members, and also distribute needed inputs as a way of enforcing the norm of social distancing, as farmers continue with their coffee business," said Kasige.
He adds that recently, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority made available fertilizers for coffee farmers, adding that with such a crisis, farmers in groups stand a better chance of getting them than individuals.