Many farmers in Koboko district viewed commercial coffee production with indignation but not Ramadan Dafala.
The 63-year-old resident of Aragule village in Pamudu parish, Kuluba Sub County realized the importance of coffee in 1980s while in exile in Sudan.
Back then, he hoped to establish a large scale coffee plantation and after his belated return to Uganda in 1997, he set out to plant three acres of Robusta and colonial coffee.
Twenty years on his coffee field looks like one of a farmer who is struggling to learn and achieve a target but lacks the means to arrive at it.
His garden is a bush of weeds and coffee with overgrown plants in dire need of trimming.
“Sometimes I use panga to cut the overgrown branches though I’m told that it’s not a good practice but I have no choice until I acquire specialized equipment,” he says.
An electrical engineer by training from Russia, Mr Dafala was returning to Uganda to take up a new role at now the defunct Uganda Electricity Board in Lugazi in 1979 when the government of late former President Idi Amin was overthrown.
He just headed straight to the Sudan until the war was over, but the brief interruptions of late Juma Oris led West Nile Bank Front gorilla war which operated in the area further made a return home difficult.
It is during his stay in Kaya now part of South Sudan that Mr Dafala developed interest in coffee growing.
“In Sudan I saw those people were earning lots of money from coffee yet they were not looking after it very well, so, I told myself with all the family land we have in Koboko I can grow coffee and make money,” he says.
Mr Dafala says his family has got over 30 hectares of land of which he has rented others out to people mostly from Maracha and Terego.
He hires workers from Maracha to whom he does not pay cash wages but allocates them land to cultivate for themselves.
Mr Dafala is driven by sheer zeal and desire to leave a productive farm for his children when he is no longer there.
His interest in coffee is a rare one considering the fact that none of his neighbours has shown any interest in doing the same.
Harvesting and marketing
In order for his coffee to fetch good prices, Dafala says that he begins quality control during harvesting.
He puts mats under the tall coffee trees for the seeds to fall on after which he keeps the harvest indoors for about four days before sun-drying it.
“By doing it that way, my friends in South Sudan told me that the quality and weight of the coffee will be maintained,” he says.
The farmer sales his coffee in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo depending on where the good prices are.
In a good harvesting season Mr Dafala earns between sh3m and sh5m from the sale of coffee beans but he expects the earnings to improve once he begins to harvest from the additional seedlings he is planting.
While he has a lot of interest in Robusta and colonial coffee which are said to be high yielding, disease resistant and tolerant to high temperature Mr Dafala is bogged down by lack of knowledge in coffee farming.
The agriculture extension service at Kuluba Sub County has not helped him much in bridging his knowledge gap with no trainings for coffee farmers organized.
“I have not had any training in coffee growing apart from what I saw in Sudan, even at the Sub County they know that I grow coffee but no one has come here to teach me how it can be done better,” he lamented.
He says that his immediate need is education about coffee growing, tools for trimming and need for wheelbarrows in his farm.
Mr Dominic Buruga, the agricultural extension officer at Kuluba Sub County who has signed Mr Dafalah’s visitor’s book several times acknowledged that they have not held intensive training for coffee farmers but says they try their best to offer appropriate advise to farmers.
“Farmers can really be tricky sometimes. We only give advice, we don’t give inputs like fertilizers and wheelbarrows as he may need because we have no budget for that,” Mr Buruga said.
To date Dafala buys his coffee seedlings from Sudan but says he would have liked to get it free under the operation wealth creation programme of the government.