The engineering background of Abdalla Hasham Mangalji has enabled him set up an model farm through experimental innovations, writes MICHAEL J SSALI.
Deep in Kinombe village, Kasenda sub-county, Kabarole district is where Mangalji set up a model farm for coffee and bananas. Popularly known as Abdalla, he owns 2,027 acres on which he runs his family business registered as Kasenda Coffee Estate.
His trucks deliver at least 1,200 bunches of matoke to Kampala for sale every week, he also regularly harvests tonnes of coffee from 400 acres.
Strangely, he maintains he became a farmer by accident. “I am an engineer by training and I spent most of my time in the army, but I am now a retired soldier who became a farmer by accident some seven years ago,” he says.
The 62-year-old used to work in the mechanical section of the army, mainly repairing military vehicles. Then in 2012 he met Henry Ngabirano, the former managing director of Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), who introduced him to the idea of becoming a coffee farmer.
“I obtained some 40,000 Arabica coffee seedlings from UCDA which I planted on 100 acres. I intercrop coffee with bananas and I have never regretted my decision to become a farmer,” he says.
His first coffee harvest took place in 2016 and he has been selling huge amounts of coffee since that time.
“However, over the years I found by blind chance that actually Robusta coffee does much better than Arabica coffee in this region despite the high altitude of 1,250 meters above sea level. I secured some elite Robusta coffee seedlings and now I have some 67 acres under Robusta,” he says.
He also says his dream is to plant 1,000 acres of Robusta coffee and to gradually replace all the Arabica coffee with Robusta. With good coffee husbandry practices and stable prices, such acreage under Robusta coffee could generate close to Shs 2 billion a year, according to sector estimates.
In achieving this, he does not use manufactured fertilizers because he believes they destroy the natural fertility of his farm’s soil.
“I depend on mulching and livestock droppings. I greatly value the natural environment and it is the reason I preserve a huge natural forest on my land.”
Abdalla plans to make his farm an indigenous private-owned coffee estate with a direct export provision within the next 20 years. He also wants to create a training institution for coffee farmers and processors right on his farm.
“Our farmers must understand that coffee is food and it has got to be produced and managed with care. I have visited Brazil and I have observed a big difference between the way they produce the crop and the way we do. We have to copy from such countries and any form of training and sensitization should be carried out upcountry and particularly in the coffee-growing districts, not in Kampala.”
As a way of encouraging other farmers, he has mobilized hundreds of households in the neighbourhood and persuaded them to become coffee farmers by helping them to get seedlings. Time and again he invites them to his farm to learn more about coffee farming.
When The Observer visited on August 21, 2018, he was hosting UCDA board members, district leaders and farmer groups’ leaders at his farm. He used the opportunity to disclose some of the challenges farmers like him face in coffee production.
“As you will observe during the tour of the farm, I am increasingly planting more Robusta coffee and I want you to help me access the best seedlings for Robusta coffee,” he told the board members led by their chairman Perez Bukumunhe and UCDA managing director, Emmanuel Iyamulemye.
“We experience long droughts and we cannot carry out irrigation despite the fact that we have a river and crater lakes right within my own land,” he says.
“Due to lack of hydroelectricity, there are no coffee hullers in the area and farmers must transport their coffee to Fort Portal or Kasese for hulling. This means reduced profits and loss of coffee husks which act as good organic manure.”
The UCDA team was undertaking a monitoring and evaluation field exercise by visiting coffee farmers and traders in the western region to assess how far the authority had gone with the implementation of its plans, and the achievements made.
When Abdalla visited Brazil about five years ago, he came back with an idea which he has put into action. He has used his engineering skills to fabricate what he calls a mobile coffee huller powered by his own tractor.
The farmers can now arrange to have the huller go to their farms, do the hulling of the coffee right there, sell the coffee, and keep the coffee husks on their farms for later use as manure. Abdalla recently visited the Netherlands on a farming tour and says he learnt that wind can power a water pump to drive irrigation water from crater lakes.
The farmer employs about 120 people and spends between Shs 12 and Shs 15 million every month on their wages. He encourages the practice of intercropping coffee with bananas.
“If one enterprise disappoints you sometimes, the other one rewards you,” he says. “I went all the way to DR Congo to get the banana variety that you see here. I get very big bunches and I harvest and sell every week. They are not so prone to the common banana diseases.”
Given the recent surge in prices of matoke, he must be reaping big from the 1,200 bunches he delivers every week to the different markets.
He told The Observer he plans to set up a value-addition banana factory in western Uganda.
“We want to make banana flour for baby food. We will also extract starch for use in pharmaceutical industries. The banana stem fibres will be used to make ladies’ bags. There is a whole range of products that we expect to make out of the matoke. Abdalla also grows vanilla on five acres.
Bukumunhe was full of awe for his effort. “I wish we had at least one Abdalla in every district,” he said. “I want to assure you of our continued support.”
Meanwhile, Iyamulemye promised to liaise with the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) to enable Abdalla obtain the Robusta coffee plantlets he needs to expand coffee production on his farm.