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Funzo Buginyanya Farmers Group

Mt. Elgon, Eastern Uganda, Uganda
Partner since: 2022 Traceable to: 333 farmers delivering to 8 collection centers Altitude: 1650 - 2100 MASL

Home pulped, set out for fermentation in closed burlap for 12 – 24 hrs, washed and dried on raised beds for 12-20 days

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Community Context

On the foothills of Mt.Elgon, the best coffee grows near the top of ridges that jut above deep valleys. Gibuzaale is a micro-region within Buginyanya, which is one of the highest of these narrow plateaus. Coffee from all the way up to the park border finds its way down to the Gibuzaale Washing Station where day lots are traceable down to the individual farmer. When deliveries range from 3 to 30 KGs of cherries, this is no easy task.

We know, because this was our very first job in coffee – reviving washing stations on Mt. Elgon which had been dormant for the past sixty years. With the help of USAID, the Bugisu Cooperative Union and a Swiss Investor, the rebooting of these washing stations – and mobilization of farmers into groups – was how Crop to Cup got in the coffee business in the first place in 2005. Over the years quality increased alongside yield, prices and interest for specialty Ugandans – specifically from this area.

While we are still working with many of the same farmers, the structures are no longer in place. Over the years we have supported a variety of grassroots efforts to organize smallholders outside of multinational export channels, and in 2021 we came across an old colleague who was trying to do the same.

Robert Byaruhanga split-off from international exporters to found Funzo Coffee in 2019. Funzo means ‘learning’ and is his vehicle for putting to use all that he has learned over his nearly three decades in coffee. With Funzo, Robert inherited the networks, acumen and credibility from before, into a value-add exporter that is geared to represent and support independents. This ‘premium-parchment farmers group’ includes many of the same people who worked with us over 15 years ago, now under a new umbrella. In a very short time Robert has reestablished these networks to the point of achieving FairTrade certification, cementing the role of Funzo on Mt. Elgon and providing Crop to Cup with a like-minded export partner.

Country Context

Crop to Cup started working in coffee in Uganda, the self-proclaimed pearl of Africa, in 2007. When we began in Uganda, the coffee economy was 80% Robusta, and 20% Arabica. Today, it’s about the same ratio. This goes to show that the export landscape in Uganda is very volumetrically oriented. Robusta grows in the central lowlands – you’ll see if on the way to the Nile headwaters – and there’s two Arabica growing regions in Uganda, Mt Elgon and the Southwest in and around Kassesse.

The primary producing region is Mt. Elgon in the North-East and on the Uganda/Kenya border. On Mt. Elgon you’ll find high elevations that support both farmer group (home-processed coffees), as well as washing-station coffee – a string of about a dozen export owned washing stations pepper the western side of the mountain. Coffees from Mt. Elgon have improved in quality over the years as exporters have been encouraged to perform lot separation, and invest in extension services to the smallholder farmer. That said, a typical garden in the Uganda is 20-200 trees, managed by an individual family, and often serving as the family’s only access to a cash economy. Because of the small quantities contributed by each homestead, consistency has been a challenge and blessing at times. Year after year we cup through both washing station coffees and farmer group coffees from Mt Elgon – often finding that the variability in processing from homestead to homestead leads to a more interesting cup overall. We’ve seen 87 point coffees with big peach and apricot profiles coming from Mt Elgon, but more typically we see mid 80’s lots that have a robust citrus acidity and a medium body and nice cup structure.

The Rwenzori Range are the elevations that support Uganda’s secondary Arabic production area. The Rwenzori’s are called the ‘mountains of the moon’ – capped peaks that define Uganda’s southwest border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. This area has the prerequisites for Arabica production from a geological standpoint, but conflict in the regions (refugee overflow from the Great African wars) has left a culturally mixed and strained community context. Over the last decade the region has seen NGO support, which has resulted in well-trained cooperatives producing clean Arabica’s out of the southwest that have raised eye-brows. Profiles are similar as Mt. Elgon lots – strong citrus with medium body cup structures, and these coffees typically come with certifications as well. We’ve been supportive of this work and hoping that it continues to be encouraged.

The lower elevations of the Southwest are known for DrUgArs (Dried Ugandan Arabica) – shorthand for Ugandan Naturals. Typically – these were blender qualities. Natural process is the preferred method both because of the lack of infrastructure and investment in washing stations that far west in the country. Until about 5 years ago, Drugars were only purchased for blenders, so quality was not scrutinized, and prices paid were minimal. With encouragement, small groups of producers were trained in floating and raised bed drying – and low and behold, we started to see the emergence of the Specialty Drugar. These coffees are a very compelling combination of big body and up front fruit compote profile. Priced well for natural profiles, we’re seeing qualities continue to improve and usage in the states move from Espresso blender to a single origin offering on bar or espresso. What’s especially exciting is that premiums are following these farmers’ efforts and increased qualities. These coffees come from modest 5,000ft elevations – famers on this land would not see premiums if they focused on washed Arabica. Being able to differentiate with processing methods has allowed these groups a seat at the table in specialty coffee.