Kampala — Coffee production and general management is one of the training sessions that attracted the biggest crowds at the Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic at MUZARDI Kamenyamiggo in Lwengo District on Saturday.
Coffee farming is one of the biggest economic activities in Masaka Sub-region and farmers turned out in large numbers to listen to Dr Godfrey Kagezi from Coffee Research Institute (CORI), Kituuza, who gave them tips on agronomic practices.
"As long time producers of the crop, I am sure that you already know so much about coffee farming. So we are here mainly to share ideas about how best we can improve production and how to overcome the challenges facing the coffee sector today," he said.
Masaka grows Robusta coffee, which is currently under attack by the incurable Coffee Wilt Disease (CWD) and the Black Coffee Twig Borer.
He told them that besides fighting the pests, farmers must strive to increase coffee production by planting good seedlings and adopting good agronomy practices.
"In other Robusta coffee growing countries, on the average, a farmer harvests 15 kilogrammes of coffee berries from each plant while in Uganda most farmers harvest hardly two kilogrammes from a plant," Mr Kagezi said.
"We must increase fertiliser usage, fight pests and diseases, and take the best care of our crop in order to compete effectively," he said.
He said successful coffee farming begins with good seed selection and that all farmers should get their planting materials from only reputable nurseries, certified by Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA).
"We nowadays prepare CWD-resistant seedlings at NACORI which we have passed on to the various UCDA certified coffee nurseries across the country for further multiplication and distribution to farmers," Mr Kagezi said.
He said the seedlings from CARO, also labelled as KR, are bred not only to resist the CWD but they are also very high yielding.
He discouraged the farmers from planting 'elite' seedlings, adding that they are prone to CWD and are not so high yielding.
Mr Vincent Matovu, one of the farmers, asked him why the government gives out 'elite' seedlings through Operation Wealth Creation.
Mr Kagezi said: "There has been such a strong desire by government to increase coffee production in the recent years that it was considered prudent to distribute as many coffee seedlings as possible so as to raise our national production volumes.
"So government distributed elite coffee seedlings which are produced by germination of coffee berries."
He said when a seed germinates there is no guarantee that the resulting plant will have similar characteristics as the mother plant.
"The good news now is that government has put a halt on the distribution of elite coffee seedlings," he said.
Mr Kagezi took the farmers through the different crop management stages including ground preparation, plant spacing, hole digging, planting, training/bending, weed control, soil fertility, pruning, mulching, soil and water conservation, and disease control.
He said the farmer should prepare the land during the dry season and remove any tree stumps and roots to minimise fungal diseases. He recommended coffee plant spacing to be three by three metres, resulting in 450 plants per acre.
"There is a new practice these days of planting 1,300 coffee trees on an acre, but I would not personally advise anyone to adopt that spacing standard of Robusta coffee trees since it requires plenty of water for irrigation yet most smallholder farmers have water scarcity issues," Mr Kagezi said.
The Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic was sponsored by Bank of Uganda, Stanbic Bank, Microfinance Support Centre and Naro.