Falcon Coffees

Origin

Uganda

Population

37.8 million (2015)

Altitude Range

1200 – 2300 masl

Notable Coffee Growing Regions

Mt. Elgon, Mt. Rwenzori, Mt. Muhabura

Total Yearly Production

4.75 million (60kg bags) (2015/16 - ICO)

Processing

Washed (’Wugar’), Natural (‘Drugar’)

No. of coffee farms / farmers

1.7 million

Average Farm Sizes

0.18 hectares

Harvest periods

Washed: July-February Natural: August-May

Per Capita Consumption

0.31 kg per annum

Coffee makes up 95% of Uganda’s yearly national exports, providing a livlihood for an estimated 20% of the population. Uganda is one of the world’s largest Robusta producers. Robusta is indigenous to Uganda, and the country is home to one of the world’s oldest varieties of wild growing coffee plants, found in the country’s rainforests. Most Robusta is predominantly grown in the lower-lying regions across Uganda, at an altitude of around 1200 masl – relatively high by normal standards. An extensive clonal replanting programme has been implemented in recent years. Most Robusta is sun-dried although in recent years there have been improved attempts to reintroduce wet-processing.

In Uganda, smallholders intercrop their coffee trees with traditional food crops, usually utilizing shade trees such as bananas. In these self-sustaining conditions, coffee is left to grow naturally, flowering on average twice a year.

Arabica was introduced to Uganda from Ethiopia around 1900, with further varietals introduced throughout the following century from neighbouring Kenya, amongst other origins. Most Arabica is processed with the use of hand pulpers but attempts are under way to upgrade processing through the introduction of eco-friendly integrated pulping systems, that simultaneously remove both pulp and mucilage whilst using only small amounts of water, making them particularly suitable for use by smallholders.

Uganda also produces wet-processed Arabica, with virtually all grown by villagers on small plots. Coffees marketed as ‘Wugar’ (Washed Uganda Arabica) or ‘Drugar’ (Dry Uganda Arabica) are grown on mountains bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, along Uganda’s western border. The more demanded Bugisu is from the western slopes of Mount Elgon, and is another typically winy, fruit-toned African coffee, with elements in the flavour profile akin to a classic Kenyan coffee.

Mount Elgon lies in the eastern reaches of the country, straddling the border with Kenya. Judging by its enormous base, it is thought that Mount Elgon was once the tallest mountain in Africa. The coffee shambas extend up and down the cliff faces, making use of natural water gullies and forest cover to extract moisture from the soil. The Sipi Falls are one of the great natural features of the Elgon region where some of our coffee originates, with smallholder farms based between 1,600 and 1,900 metres. It is a steep and difficult terrain to traverse in the rainy seasons – often there are no roads, only dirt tracks that get washed away by the rains.

COMMON VARIETALS:

The Nicolaides family have been involved in coffee in Africa for three generations, starting out as farmers in the DR Congo. Today, the family own and operate a Uganda-based green coffee sourcing, milling and exporting company. Falcon Coffees and Great Lakes build community wet mills, create access to finance, provide training for farmers and pay for the certification of small- holder farmer groups.

Uganda: Social Impact

The Rwenzori Mountain range lies to the west of Uganda, forming the border between Uganda and the DR Congo. These mountains straddle the equator, rising up to nearly 17000 ft above sea level at their highest point. They are home to the Bukonzo people of whom an estimated 1 million farm Arabica coffee organically in volcanic soils as high as 2000 metres. These farmers live on both the DR Congo and Ugandan side of the mountains, but we suspect that the bulk of the coffee comes over to the Ugandan side due to the ongoing conflict in the Kivu Province of DR Congo.

This coffee is arguably the most violated of all coffees – the cheapest, lowest quality Arabica coffee in the world, called Drugar, comes from these perfect growing conditions. The current supply chains see coffee strip picked, sold for a fraction of its potential value to middle men that bulk it with Robusta coffee and foreign materials to be sold in the capital city to large multinational companies that export tens of thousands of tons to Europe and the US every year. The loss of revenue for the Ugandan economy is almost incalculable. The farmers live in poverty, distanced from the value of their crop. Many are even unaware that coffee is a beverage.

We are in the third year of a large-scale project to change the economy of this entire region through coffee. The project is focused on organizing people into community led associations. Through this we provide basic agronomy training and are raising awareness of quality. By deploying millions of dollars of capital into the region, we allow farmers to bypass the middle-men and sell directly to us at collection points in the mountains.

We are raising the quality of the coffee produced in the region and have radically increased the farmers’ income. Through paying more for coffee, we have also had a positive impact on the broader local economy. Falcon currently spends between $8million and $10million dollars each year buying coffee in these mountains and we have only touched the tip of the Rwenzori iceberg in terms of what can be done.