Uganda: Coffee farmer boosts income with good practices learned on radio

| November 24, 2023

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Ugandan coffee farmers, including Daniel Wandega, have improved their post-harvest practices and increased their incomes by listening to agricultural radio programs. Mr. Wandega’s poor handling practices led to low-quality beans and income, but his fortunes changed when he tuned in to Elgon FM. The radio programs provided valuable insights into improved practices, including how identify ripe beans, proper harvesting, and moisture-free storage. As a result, Mr. Wandega's income nearly doubled, enabling him to pay his children's school fees and plan a permanent house. The Bugisu Coffee Union has seen a significant improvement in coffee quality due to farmers gaining knowledge through radio programs.

Daniel Wandega and other Ugandan coffee farmers have improved their post-harvest practices and boosted their incomes by tuning in to agricultural radio programming. 

It’s a chilly Tuesday morning around 11 o’clock and the sun is shining brightly in a clear blue sky, slowly bringing heat to mountainous Bumasobo village in the Mbale district of eastern Uganda.

Daniel Wandega sits on a wooden bench in his compound, listening to the radio. The compound contains a semi-permanent iron sheet-roofed house, a drying rack, five blue and white tarpaulins spread on the ground, and a bicycle. 

The knobs on the three-year-old radio set are worn out because the small device has been Mr. Wandega’s source of farming information. 

He says: “I can afford a smile today because this radio has turned fortunes in my coffee farming, which was on the verge of collapsing because of a lack of knowledge on how to deal with farming challenges.”

Mr. Wandega has been growing coffee for the last 20 years on the slopes of Mount Elgon, where arabica coffee does well. For a long time, his main challenge had been poor post-harvest handling, which led to poor prices and low income. 

Mr. Wandega explains, “My coffee beans were often rejected by the buyers because of poor quality. My coffee beans were mixed with sand, some not fully ripened, and others had fungus.”

As well as harvesting beans before they were fully ripe, Mr. Wandega dried them on the ground, leaving them mixed with sand and dirt. 

But because of the radio, he now knows better.

One evening last year, Mr. Wandega tuned in to Elgon FM, where he heard an agricultural extension worker talk about how farmers can use improved post-harvest handling practices to ensure high quality coffee beans that meet market standards. Since then, he has been listening to the radio program twice a week. 

Mr. Wandega says the extension worker talked about how to identify ripe beans, about harvesting and packing, and how to transport and store coffee beans in moisture-free facilities.

He adds, “I also learned how to use tarpaulins to dry the coffee beans and how to use moisture-free storage bags, and where I can buy them.”

Mr. Wandega’s income has grown. Last season, he produced over 200 kilograms of coffee beans, which he sold at 11,000 Ugandan shillings ($2.90 US) per kilogram to the Bugisu Coffee Union, a co-operative that offers a ready market to district farmers. This is nearly double the rate he used to receive for his coffee beans. 

Fredrick Musobo is a coffee farmer from Wanale village in Mbale district. He says the agricultural radio programs have been an eye-opener. He explains: “The radio program on Step Radio has made it easier for me to know good farming practices, meet the international market standards, and prevent middlemen from exploiting me because I now understand the coffee market better.’’

Many Ugandan farmers have had their crops rejected because they were infested by pests and rodents, or contaminated with aflatoxin. The poor prices they received and their lack of bargaining power was due to the poor quality of their produce, caused in part by poor post-harvest handling.

Rogers Wandulu is the marketing manager at Bugisu Coffee Union. He says that, now that farmers are acquiring knowledge through the radio, the co-operative has seen a significant improvement in the quality of coffee.

With his increased income, Mr. Wandega is now able to pay school fees for his seven children, and plans to build a permanent house for his family. He says, “I managed to build a semi-permanent house, but in the long run I will build a permanent house through coffee farming.”

This resource is funded by the IKEA Foundation under the project “Sustainable Dialogue and Knowledge Sharing Communication Platforms”