Youth find financial lifeline in coffee nurseries

The revived campaign to initiate growing of over 300 million coffee seedlings has seen the youth cash in the over Ush90 billion project by running coffee nurseries from where government buy seedlings.

The heightened effort aimed at increasing the output of coffee from Uganda has been championed by the president through a campaign code named Operation Wealth Creation. The campaign which seeks to identify and escalate the adoption of long term crops with immense economic rewards replaced the debunked National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) which was disbanded after years of no tangible results.

“Coffee is a perennial crop that has immense capacity of eradicating poverty and increasing household incomes by threefold as well as helping the country in the balance of trade through bringing in foreign exchange,” explained Francis Chesang the Production Manager at Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA). Currently in Uganda coffee is the number foreign exchange earner bringing over $400million annually. “In fact, one acre of the crop is able to reward a household with over Ushs10million annually and therefore this explains the renewed campaigns to help the crop take more roots in the country,” added Chesang.

The aim of the project is to see the government distributing over 300million coffee seedlings in a period of three years at a rate of 100million annually. These are distributed freely to farmers in over the 82 coffee growing districts in the country. For the smooth running of the project, UCDA has identified about 1500 coffee seedling nursery operators to help in the distribution of the seedlings. “We have certified these nursery operators majority of whom are youths to supply the farmers with the seedlings,” added Chesang.

The certified nursery operators in Uganda have average capacity ranging from 10000-1.5million seedlings. The seeds are supplied from UCDA to the operators freely and they in turn prepare them and sell them to the government at Ush300 per seedling. Each coffee nursery operator certified by UCDA according to Chesang will be given a chance to tap into this opportunity of supplying the seedlings to farmers.

Given that over 300 million coffee seedlings are to be supplied to the farmers by the end of the project, there is over Ushs90 billion for those supplying the coffee seedlings alone making it a very lucrative venture given the ready market. Justifying why majority of the youth have adopted the nursery operator roles Chesang noted that given their demands, they are in need of short term investments with quick returns. “Coffee itself takes over three years to start flowering and produce the beans. This therefore may not attract the youth who have short term and immediate economic needs. In addition, for coffee growing to be a viable agribusiness venture, one must have at least an acre of land under cultivation. However, given that most land is owned by the elders in the society, most of the youth are left without or with little land that cannot enable the growing of the crop. This therefore leaves them with nursery operator venture which requires less space and also promises quick returns,” explained Chesang.

The coffee nursery operators are given all the major inputs by UCDA. Any one interested in the venture applies to UCDA when the window period for accepting applications is open. Chesang added, “This is a period before the planting season sets in or before the major rains because when the rains come then it’s only logical that we close the window period and allow the existing ones to supply the seedlings to the farmers as they maximize the rains.” UCDA visits the site of the nursery operator and vets it before giving him the certificate and nod to go ahead.

Tadeo Senyonyi is one the beneficiaries from the campaign. “Although am a journalist, I have keen interest in agriculture and therefore have always been inspired by the numerous sources that I have interviewed during my work. My entry into the nursery operator business was never planned.” During his work, he once visited UCDA for a story he was working on and stumbled on the idea. “The guys there were so welcoming and had a lot of information about coffee at their finger and they naturally inspired.

I was given the seeds and went to Kibaale my home district to set up the nursery for the purpose of planting our 20 acre piece of land.” However, the successful sprouting of the seedlings prompted farmers from around the area to request for some of the seedlings and that is how the youthful journalist got into the nursery operator business. He has successfully supplied UCDA through the Operation Wealth Creation project over 50,000 coffee seedlings translating into Ushs15 million.