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Uganda: Fertilizer helps coffee farmers increase yields

It’s late afternoon and the weather is mild. Josephine Nansanga is smiling as she dries harvested coffee on a tarpaulin in her compound. Coffee is her major income-generating crop. The 48-year-old farmer is happy that, since she started to apply fertilizer three years ago, she has harvested bumper crops.

Mrs. Nansanga lives in Kasene village in Kalungu district, about 130 kilometres west of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. She learned coffee farming from her late father in 2005 to increase her income.

Most of the soils in her area have lost fertility over the years. Mrs. Nansanga applied composted manure in her coffee farm, but her yields remained poor. She harvested small crops of poor quality coffee that didn’t bring her the income she needed to support her family.

Then in 2017, she started applying commercial fertilizer on her farm and noticed a big change, doubling her yield. She explains: “Before using fertilizer, the quality was poor, but after fertilizer application, the quality and quantity increased. I used to harvest about 40 100-kg bags of coffee in a season, but now my harvest has increased to 80 bags.”

Mrs. Nansanga and other coffee farmers in her area were trained by a German organization called Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung, or HRNS on how to use fertilizer in coffee production. There were face-to-face trainings, and radio programs on Radio Simba FM reminded and encouraged listeners to use fertilizers. The radio program was funded by The federal Republic of Germany through GIZ. Stephen Ecaat is Farm Radio International’s country representative in Uganda. He says, “The radio program gives farmers timely information which helps them learn proper application of fertilizer in coffee so they can achieve increased yields.”

While fertilizer can improve coffee yields, some farmers can’t afford it. But for Mrs. Nansanga, the expense is worthwhile. She says, “Although it is expensive, I am applying fertilizer to improve my coffee yields because I have seen good returns from it.”

She acquires the fertilizer on credit from a company called IBERO and pays back the loan after selling her coffee. She says, “I have four acres and I buy NPK, CAN, and BIDCO types of fertilizer. A 50-kilogram bag of fertilizer sells at 35,624 Ugandan shillings [$9.51 US].”

Mrs. Nansanga applies the fertilizer after weeding by spreading it under her coffee trees. Six months later, the coffee matures and she can start selectively handpicking red coffee beans. Like other farmers, she stores the harvested beans for a day, then dries them before packing in sacks to be sold at the factory.

Mathius Kabuye is a coffee farmer in the nearby village of Bulawula. Mrs. Nansanga inspired him to start growing coffee.

Mr. Kabuye says, “Now that I grow coffee on my two hectares of land, I am able to sell [it]and use the money to buy food for my family.”

Daniel Kazibwe is the project manager for HRNS in Masaka district. He says, “Equipping farmers with training in agronomic practices like fertilizer application has improved coffee production in the region.”

Kawesi Gerald is a coffee farmer from Kisama village in Masaka district. He says, “My agricultural plan for this year is to apply more fertilizer in my farm to improve productivity.”

He adds, “From my two acres of land, I harvested 10 bags and I managed to get 367,260 Ugandan shillings ($98 US). I expect to use the money to expand [to] another coffee garden this year.”

Mrs. Nansanga used her increased earnings to build a permanent house for her family and pay her children’s school fees. She says, “In four seasons of applying fertilizer in my farm, I have managed to earn about 3,920,000 Ugandan shillings [about $1,047 US] from selling coffee.”

Financed by the GIZ, commissioned by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany.