Kota money grows on coffee trees

Kikerege Trade Center is located about nine kilometers on Kikyusa Road off the Kampala-Gulu Highway and just a few meters from the JBK farm.

The 30-acre farm belongs to Jossy Balissa Kuta, a biomedical engineer, who is very knowledgeable and passionate about coffee farming.

Out of 30 acres, Kota has dedicated 27 to coffee cultivation. The three acres accommodate a house for the workers, a store, a goat pen (he keeps about 30 goats under zero grazing), a cement drying yard (100ft*50ft) and the rest is used for growing corn.

A guided tour of the plantation would make one conclude that this is one of the best coffee plantations in Uganda. One could also easily infer that the farm is located in the best soil for coffee, but the opposite is true; The greater part of the land is mooram while the lower part near the bog is sandy. So what magic did he do to ensure that coffee thrived under this kind of soil?

the journey
When this reporter visited JBK’s farm earlier this month, we found Kota checking out his champa. He had just arrived from Kampala on a routine visit to the farm.

The 45-year-old took us on a guided tour as he recounted his coffee-growing journey.

He says he started growing coffee in stages nine years ago. This means that his coffee is in different stages of growth. On his motivation to join coffee farming, Kota says he was inspired by his father who owned coffee grinding machines.

“My dad used to take us to work on milling machines during the holidays. I used to see how someone entered the market as a half-million trader and at the end of two years became a millionaire,” he says. He planted 6,000 coffee plants for the first time in 2014, but 1,500 have dried up.

Learn the lessons and carry on. He says that it is better to plant seedlings in larger pots with six wings.

In total, he has 30,000 coffee trees, of which only 6,500 are CWD-r (wilt disease resistant aka KR) varieties.

best practices
Kota says he first used a 12ft by 12ft spacing. However, in 2019, Kota visited Joseph Nkando, a farmer who is best known for introducing 3m*1m aka Brazilian style. After the visit, he adjusted the distances.

“We decided to make better use of the spaces by planting more coffee trees to make it 6ft*12ft,” he says, adding at one point the coffee tangles, the reason he leaves only two branches on the trees.

He says he likes line B because it blooms regularly and thus provides the farmer with coffee even when it is out of season.

“B has large berries. Because of its slow growth, it blooms late but guarantees you a harvest when the season is over. When other people are out of work, you’re in business,” says Kota.

Fertility improvement
His coffee is green overall though the soil is sandy and a few inches from Murram. He says he uses manure, inorganic fertilizers, and irrigation during the dry period. Since his top soil is a few inches from Murram’s, he uses corn stalks to mulch the coffee and “create more soil.”

He also applies more manure to the block/section which has more moor. Regarding irrigation, he says: “For the whole farm, we use 60,000 liters per day when we do irrigation during the dry period.”

He uses a petrol pump to pump water from a dam dug a few meters from the farm.

Kota employs five permanent staff including the manager, assistant manager, cook, security guard and a person in charge of the goats. These are accommodated on the farm.

Other temporary workers come in when there is demand especially during harvesting, spraying, pruning, manure and fertilizer application.

To make the director’s job easier, Kota says he will soon deploy a drone to easily monitor and detect diseases.

“I pay my workers on time,” he says, adding that permanent workers are paid extra for each work done besides the salary they receive for their well-defined roles.

Last year, the city of Kota harvested four truckloads of kibuku (dry cherries). Each truck equals 120 bags, which means he harvested about 480 bags of kippuku.

He says he sold the coffee as kiboko because many of the Fair Quality (FAQ/Kasse) buyers are exploitative in nature especially when the coffee is in the milling plant.

“If the price of the kasse is 7,000 shillings and my turn is 50 per cent, I will sell the kippuku if someone gives me 3,400 shillings. I will not lose,” he says, adding that it is a misconception for farmers to think that the kasse guarantees the farmer more money.

He says that some farmers forget about the costs of obtaining cassis, including loading and unloading fees, transportation and grinding fees.

Fertilizers enhance harvest
He says he first used a compost blend for coffee in 2017 and the results were great.

“I harvested 265 bags in 2018 from 5,500 trees. I imagined what the harvest would be like with 30,000 coffee trees at maximum yield! That was when I decided to seriously reinvest in this plantation by applying the right fertilizers.”

He says the casual workers are trained to pick only red cherries.

It is paid for each kilogram harvested. He adds that he gives the workers breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“At peak harvest I give 100 shillings for every kilogram harvested because there are other input costs as mentioned earlier,” he says.

When asked about spending on the farm, Kota said his spending varies in different situations.

For example, during a drought, weeds are put down and therefore no herbicides are spent. However, he spends more on irrigation and labour.

“During the dry season, I spend an average of 3.5 million shillings on the farm per month,” he says, adding that spending increases during the rainy season due to the use of fertilizers and manure.

Besides droughts, pests and diseases, Kota says it’s hard to maintain a farm like his especially in the formative years before harvest begins.

He says farming in stages helped him avoid cash flow problems. “I used the income from my job to maintain and expand this farm. I also took out loans. I usually pay back after harvest.”

He adds that there are products on the market that do not meet farmers’ expectations.

“We usually believe in the people behind these products, but some people are not aware of the products they sell,” he says.

He adds that the volatility of input prices affects planning.

He cites prices for herbicides and fertilizers, which have risen in recent years.

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