Crowd-funding for the coffee farmers of Uganda

Sparing a thought for the impoverished farmers who make our coffee can go a long way in helping them

Ehtesham Shahid
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A casual coffee drinker’s interest in the beverage usually begins and ends with the aroma. There is hardly any keenness to know where the grains come from, who produces them, and what efforts go into their farming. Very few among us understand how and where the process begins and we hardly care whether the farmers are getting their due.

Wouldn’t the coffee taste a tad better if we are told that the money we have spent on it is being used for the betterment of farmers toiling in the fields to produce the best quality of seeds?

In other words, the coffee that ushers in our day can also bring subsistence for the not so fortunate people in remote villages who produce it, provided we are willing to become more sensitive as consumers in an already consumerist society.

An effort of this kind is being made in Bwindi, a small village of Uganda. Located next to the Impenetrable National Park, home to the rainforest housing the world famous endangered Mountain Gorilla, Bwindi is extremely poor despite tourist numbers. Although passes for gorilla tours range up to $600, the local community gets only about 20 percent of the $30 park entrance fee.

There is little opportunity for development, employment or economic growth. The local economy depends mainly on subsistence agriculture, benefiting little from the largely state-run tourism industry of the national park. The poor economic opportunity also means that villagers depend on the forest to some extent, which represents another kind of threat.

This is not the end of irony in Biwindi, which is one of the most remote rural areas in the country.

Uganda has not particularly been politically stable. Electricity has just arrived in these areas and the place has become a concoction of colonial heritage, bad governance, civil war, insecurity, negligence, corruption and slow speed of reforms and development. Yet, the surrounding is serene and breathtakingly beautiful.

Help at hand

Fortunately there are those willing to look beyond the taste of coffee. Gauri Khandekar, the Brussels-based researcher focusing on EU foreign policy and EU affairs, is one of them. A visit to Bwindi years ago made Khandekar fall in love with the place. She wasn’t just determined to chip in but wanted to institutionalize support.

“We’ve just started the crowd-funding page and were trying to get the business plan ready. The people there would really benefit from it. Their use of modern farming technologies is non-existent. Even step farming is not employed and the community around the rainforest benefits little,” says Khandekar.

The coffee that ushers in our day can also bring subsistence for the not so fortunate people in remote villages who produce it

Ehtesham Shahid

The Bwindi Community Coffee Factory will be a community initiative under the Buhoma Mukono Community Development Association (BMCDA), which is a local body. BMCDA has been working relentlessly for the benefit of the local community. It runs lodges that employ people and also procures money for the community under various initiatives.

Khandekar is indeed besotted with the place and its main produce. “It is Arabica coffee which tastes fabulous. For now, it is exported in bulk to Mombasa,” she says. For a start, she has set up a coffee farmers’ cooperative so that they get fairer prices and cut the middleman.

Her dream is to start a completely community-led project, which is ecologically sustainable given its friendly neighbors - the mountain gorillas.

Whenever Khandekar succeeds in bringing the project to fruition, she will be combining a high-quality product with the unique selling point, the community-led nature of the project. It will see the factory become the global supplier of choice for processed Ugandan coffee while strengthening the community.

She indeed doesn't belong to the category of casual coffee drinker who is unable to look beyond the aroma.

Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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