Changing Climate, Unpredictable Weather Patterns Take Toll on Coffee Farming in Bugisu
By Kirinya Ayubu
Unreliable weather conditions and Climate change are threatening coffee farming in Bugisu sub region known for the country’s Arabica coffee. The rising temperatures, and heavy rains in the region are making it harder to grow the high-quality Arabica coffee in the altitudes where it is currently grown.
The region receives erratic and unpredictable rains which have sometimes led to flooding and other times resulting in droughts like in Mbale City and district where over 25 people perished in floods in August this year and the landslides that have quite often hit Bududa, Bulambuli and Bududa.
The unpredictable weather patterns and Climate change in this region have also been blamed for the spread of coffee pests and diseases, like coffee rust which has hit hard on the production of coffee.
Coffee plants require very specific environmental conditions but the warmer temperatures and changing weather patterns in Bugisu are hurting production and the quality of the beans.
The farmers observe the impacts of the environmental changes on their crops noting the changes in the flowering and fruiting cycles of the coffee plants which have also been as a result of an increase in pests, and diseases in the coffee plants.
Nandudu Shakira is a resident of Buwalasi Sub County in Sironko district. The 32 year old mother of 4 children has depended on coffee as her family’s source of livelihood.
Nandudu has slightly above 15 trees of coffee planted behind her courtyard garden which she says has fended her and her family for the last ten years.
“I get between 2 and 4 kilograms of coffee from each of those ten trees which I have had for the last ten years and they have helped me to find school fees for my four children” she said adding that she has been able to buy some goats and pigs from the same money got from selling coffee.
But Nandudu is scared of the changing and unpredictable weather patterns in the region which she says has greatly impacted on her production noting that her yields keep on fluctuating every season because of either the too much rain or the drought that makes the coffee berries to dry up or shrink which in turn affects productivity.
In the same sub county is Wabulo Sophie who has over 500 trees of coffee planted on a half an acre of land. According to her, she gets between 3 to 4 kilograms of cherries from each of the trees in a good season, which money has enabled her family to have a better life. She however notes that she is only able to get the over 4 kilograms of berries on each tree only if she added fertilizers in her garden which is an expensive venture.
“I have about 500 trees of coffee planted on a half an acre of land where am able to get between 3 to 4 kilograms of cherries from each of the tree but this keeps reducing depending on the season and the fact that I lack fertilizers to apply in my garden, this has also affected production” she said.
Like Nandudu, the unpredictable weather patterns in the region have made it hard to know when to plant coffee and that because of the heavy rains that hit the region of late, the berries rotted and affected her productivity.
“The unpredictable weather patterns in the region have made it hard to know when to plant coffee especially when it rains endlessly like it is doing this season which makes the berries rot and sometimes the too much sunshine which dries the coffee and this has caused hunger in the region.
Wabulo wants the government to extend irrigation schemes in the area to save farmers from the impacts of drought which affects the coffee productivity adding that they have fears that if the weather patterns continue being unpredictable, then they will have to change the business and grow other crops instead of coffee.
“If the government can extend irrigation schemes in this area because we have a stream that just passes by us here, it will save farmers from the impacts of drought which affects the coffee productivity but if the if weather patterns continue being unpredictable, then I will have to change the business and grow other crops instead of coffee” she adds.
Peter Wangafu, another coffee farmer in Sironko says that the dry spell that hit the region made most of his trees dry. Wangafu has close to 1000 coffee trees. He said that unlike the past, they are forced to apply fertilizers in the coffee gardens to help resist the bad weather.
“The dry spell that hit the region made most of my trees dry. I had close to 1000 trees of coffee but many of them have since dried due to the drought and the coffee rust disease. Unlike the past, we are forced to apply fertilizers in the coffee gardens to help resist the bad weather and diseases.
Samuel Wakinya, the Chairperson of the Bushika Integrated Area Cooperative Enterprise in Bududa district says coffee is the identity of Elgon Zone which encompasses Bugisu as well which he says that they grew up while their great grandfathers grew coffee. The cooperative has a membership of over 3000 farmers.
Wakinya says that the environment has changed which has affected coffee production noting that the time at which farmers expect rains, it does come noting that the drought has taken a big toll on the coffee in the region which he said that as they grew up productivity was high which has changed over time.
“We used to have a good environment for growing coffee because we used to have good rains which were evenly distributed, but now things have slightly changed because people have cleared the forest and they have encroached on the mountain, and now when you expect rains you instead see drought” he states.
According to him, because of the changing climatic conditions farmers on average get between 300 and 500 grams of dry parchment coffee unlike the past when they used to get a lot of coffee where one tree would produce 15 kilograms of row coffee which was equivalent to over 3 kilograms of dry parchment.
“When you talk of the climate, it has really affected us because I remember in the past all these seasons were reliable but now they are not” Wakinya said
He says that as a cooperative, they have tried to promote alternative mechanisms of protecting the environment like use of bio gas plants among other things adding that there is need for the government to intervene and subsidize farm inputs and sensitize the communities about the dangers of environmental degradation.
“The farmers need sensitisation and other government interventions like irrigation schemes among others because some of these things are scientific, we also need the varieties that are resistant to the changing environment” noted Wakinya.