Friday, 2 December 2011

COFFEE AT RISK: PROTECTING WETLANDS IN UGANDA

Africa Storytelling Project


The members of the Ankole Coffee Producers Cooperative Union (ACPCU), located in the Bushenyi District in South West Uganda, are determined to tackle the problem of climate change before the business they established in 1998 is in serious trouble.

“Although we had good rains this year, drought is a big problem in this area, and if the coffee tree does not get sufficient moisture the young beans fall off too early. Disease, pests, coffee wilt and coffee berry disease have also become a big problem for us”, says John Nuwagaba, ACPCU’s General Manager.

In addition to climate change, Uganda’s population growth has also had a large impact on the farmers of the ACPCU. Over the past three years the number of people living in the country has doubled to nearly 33 million. The spike has increased the threat of encroachment on important wetlands in the region that act as water purification systems, biodiversity safeguards and provide natural flood control.

“Out of every ten traditional sources of water we had in this part of Uganda, four have permanently dried up because of drought. Farmers who belong to our cooperative are not allowed to encroach on remaining wetlands to increase the size of their coffee gardens. Instead we teach them about better farming techniques that improve a crop’s yield, such as building trenches and mulching to trap moisture”, says John.

ACPCU’s farmers’ continue to work with FairTrade to diversify these techniques, focused on improving the quality of their crops and addressing ideas for wetland protection. 67 year-old farmer Ngambe Ehab, who has been growing coffee in Mitoana in the Bushenyi district for the past 53 years, feels he has learned a lot from the process.

“At the moment I am losing half my coffee tree garden each year to coffee wilt, which is 2000 trees. I replace them every year at a cost of 500 Ugandan shillings each to buy and transport, which is expensive. I am very concerned about the rate my plants die each year”, says Ngambe.

To try and mitigate the effects of climate change, Ngambe has introduced a wide variety of practices he has learned. In addition to mulching and digging trenches, one of his most successful innovations is planting large trees in his coffee gardens to provide shade and reduce carbon dioxide. When asked if he has considered diversifying his crops to include more than coffee, the father of 18 children explains how he has seen the broad affects of climate change on agriculture as a whole in the region. He now recognizes there are no longer any safe bets when it comes to choosing a crop from which to make a guaranteed living.

Although being informed about climate change has left ACPU farmers worried about their future, it has also prompted them to embark on larger-scale projects designed to protect the environment. “The next project will involve tree planting, teaching farmers more about how to further improve their farming methods, and restore their environment if it has been affected by flooding or drought. A big part of the project will focus on protecting our wetlands, which are under threat from people”, says John.

For more information about the Ankole Coffee Producers’ story visit: http://www.fairclimatedeal.net/impact-of-climate-change-on-fairtrade-producers-2/preserving-wetlands-a-key-factor-to-tackling-climate-change-for-coffee-growers-in-uganda/

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