The Common Language of Coffee: Slow Food Uganda Celebrates Its 4th Coffee Festival
10 May 2023
“Coffee” is one of the world’s most commonly used words, infused with slight semantic variations according to each language and culture (café, kaffee, kopi, caffé, kafei, kohi, etc.). But some languages use different words to emphasize their sociocultural relationship with coffee, most notably in Ethiopia, where the Amharic term “Buna” refers both to the coffee and its ceremony.
In Uganda, we call coffee “Mwanyi” or “Emwany”. But here, instead of drinking it, we eat it — a traditional way of consuming coffee called “Emwanyi Z’empogola”. We take the ripe cherries and wrap them in banana leaves, stewing (steaming) them and folding them like gift packets. When needed, we can also break the end of the package off and munch the cooked seeds. These snacks can be found in local markets and are a popular energy kick for long car journeys.
The Slow Food Mt. Elgon Nyasaland Coffee Community grows Nyasaland coffee as part of a mixed farming system, and is proud to be part of the Slow Food Coffee Coalition. Situated in Mbale’s Miale Cell, Mooni ward on the slopes of Mount Elgon, this group has been going since 2015 and is made up of 40 farmers who work at an altitude of between 1,260 and 1,550 meters. Their mission is to safeguard, and add value to, the Nyasaland coffee variety to improve the quality of the coffee through proper postharvest handling and to promote their coffee on the local market.
Jawaali Waniaye is a “nyasaland” Arabica coffee farmer from the Slow Food Mount Elgon Nyasaland Coffee community. While visiting the community, Jawaali leads an excursion to his plantation, showing how he and other community participants protect the mountain and its local biodiversity. He explains how coffee plants grow in the shade of tall banana trees, mango trees, jackfruit, different types of climbing yams and more. The soil is covered with legumes, ginger to repel insects — an abundance of biodiversity in an agroforestry system. Jawaali says that he has been working with Slow Food Uganda for quite some time, and is now a member of the Slow Food Coffee Coalition. He asks his group whether they know what the Slow Food Coffee Coalition is, not knowing that some are already members. “It promotes good, clean and fair coffee for all!” he says.
Jawaali tells his group that the Coalition’s agro-ecological approach meets their clean criteria. Fair means receiving a fair remuneration, but also having additional food for personal and family consumption thanks to an agroecological approach to cultivating the land, while good refers to the size of the coffee beans (relative to Uganda’s classification system relating to the size, shape and density of the grain), which comes from the way the land is cultivated.
Uniting Communities and Unlocking the Power of Collaboration for Sustainable Coffee: Perspectives from the Slow Food Uganda Coffee Festival 2023
On 12th May 2023, Slow Food Uganda organized the 4th edition of the Coffee Festival to promote the identity of coffee grown in an agroforestry system. Held at Ssaza Kyaggwe grounds in Mukono district, Uganda, the event attracted more than 500 people from every region of the country, all gathered to strengthen the network of the coffee agroforestry value-chain. The festival provided an exhibition and discussion forum for both local and international participants within the value-chain. Among its attendees were producers, cooperatives, traders, roasters, baristas, Slow Food Communities and CSOs, as well as partners from Food and Agriculture Organization, Slow Food Coffee Coalition, Buganda Kingdom and Jungle Lodges.
One of the main subjects of discussion was how to remove community barriers that prevent access to sustainable agroforestry practices in the coffee supply chain. This tied in with the aim of the festival: which was not only to raise awareness about sustainable agroforestry practices in the coffee value-chain but also to empower communities by providing them with opportunities to learn, engage with others in the industry, share their experiences and promote their products and practices.
Through a range of activities like coffee exhibitions, conferences, education workshops, coffee tastings, the event provided a platform for different stakeholders to unite, exchanging ideas about how best to achieve sustainability while also creating economic opportunities through their involvement in this sector. It gave producers access to valuable resources such as market information, which empowers them to make informed decisions when selling their produce or investing in new projects related to coffee agroforestry systems. It also allowed participants from different parts of Uganda to share their experiences, thereby facilitating collaboration between various organizations involved in promoting sustainability through these systems.
The Coffee Festival attracted an array of keynote speakers including: Mr. Edward Mukiibi, President of Slow Food and Executive Director Slow Food Uganda; Mr. Kato David, Dept. Ssekiboobo (County Chief), Ssaza Kyaggwe, Buganda kingdom; Dr. Kiwuka Catherine, Manager of the plant Genetic Resource Center (PGRC); Ms Karem Del Castillo Velàzquez, Climate Risk Management Specialist at the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Forestry Division; and Mr. Rikiya Konishi, Forestry Officer (Water and Mountains) at the FAO.
“Visiting these farms really highlighted the importance of working together with the producers,” commented Ms. Karem Del Castillo Velàzquez, Climate Risk Specialist at the FAO. “I’m excited about the efforts these farmers are putting in and how they are going the extra mile — not just in terms of production but in seeking the knowledge that underpins what they do.”
As well as being able to sample a wide variety of artisanal blends and single-origin roasts, attendees also had the opportunity to take part in a series of engaging and informative workshops and conferences. Topics included the Slow Food Coffee Coalition by Mr. Emanuele Dughera, Slow Food Coffee Coalition Coordinator (Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity); the Circular Economy, the Jungle model applicable to the Coffee Value Chain by Dr. Costantino Tessarin, the Managing Director of Destination Jungle and the Chairman of the Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest; Scouts in the Coffee Value Chain by Mr. Hashaka Edison, the Scouts district commissioner and project manager of Uganda Scouts Coffee Agronomy Survey project; and Know Your Coffee (A Needs Assessment) by Mr. Stephan Katongole, the Chief Executive Officer of the Washed Robusta Coffee Company. Mr. Katongole’s conference highlighted the kind of support farmers need to attain the ideal coffee quality while protecting the environment while examining coffee brewing techniques, sustainable farming practices and the latest trends in coffee innovation.
The festival’s exhibitors showcased their unique coffee blends, innovative brewing equipment and artisanal and fresh seasonal food items. Visitors also had the chance to learn about sustainable farming practices and social responsibility issues related to coffee production, as well as to purchase coffee-related merchandise and accessories from various exhibitors. Visitors also had the chance to connect with a diverse range of exhibitors, including small-scale coffee farmers from the Slow Food Communities, local coffee processors and distributors and roasters from different regions of Uganda and from other countries in the network. Two roasters from the Coffee Coalition network also took part in the event: Erminia Nordari from Critical Coffee (Lombardy, Italy) and Oliviero Alotto from Ialty (Piedmont, Italy).
“The thing that struck me most here was how coffee is perceived as more an agricultural product than a drink,” observed Oliviero Alotto. “This is what we need to bring our consumers every day: coffee as a plant. Here, the attachment to land and soil is deep; and only rich soil and good land grows great coffee.”
Many varieties of coffee were exhibited at the festival, including Kisansa Robusta Coffee from the Luwero Kisansa Coffee Presidium, Nyasaland Arabica Coffee from the Mt. Elgon Nyasaland Coffee Presidium, Liberica coffee from the Ntanzi coffee producers Slow Food Community as well as processed coffee from the Bugisu Arabica Cooperative, Kikobero Coffee processors, Budetu Food Community and Kawa Coffee.
“This trip to Uganda has firmed up my conviction that we need to forge ever-stronger relationships between roasters and local communities,” reflected Erminia Nodari. “Only by listening, understanding and sharing knowledge can we overcome the distances and obstacles that still relegate coffee among commodities, preventing that growth in quality and value that results in farmers being excluded.”
“It’s vital that we nurture direct relationships with roasters, undertake taste education and share our knowledge of fermentation, roasting and beverage preparation to ensure that good agricultural practices are undertaken. Not only is this a benefit in terms of environmental protection, but it also affects the sensory quality of coffee, bringing a wealth of benefits to both the value of coffee and the farmers’ quality of life.”
This year’s edition of the Slow Food Uganda Coffee Festival has served as an essential reminder that we are part of a global community working towards a common goal: protecting our planet’s resources while ensuring people have the means to support themselves financially. By bringing everyone together, we can create synergy which leads to better outcomes than any individual would be able to achieve alone.
By John Kiwagalo and Emanuele Dughera
The Slow Food Coffee Festival 2023 was organized within the framework of the FAO/Uganda and Malawi project “Enhancing community resilience to climate change in mountain watersheds (GCP/GLO/042/JPN)”, financed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan. This project aims to enhance local populations’ resilience to natural disasters by strengthening the capacities of institutions and communities on the risk-based watershed management approach for forest and land use management.
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