By Eric Mukhwana
Coffee growing in Masaabaland started in 1912. We grow the Arabica type commercially called Bugisu Arabica Coffee. We call our coffee tsimwanyi, zimwanyi, imwanyi or lipesa. It’s our money maker. It is an inheritance from our forefathers. It’s our birthright.
In Crema Magazine of Australia, they write, “…..Uganda is not only a home of endangered Mountain Gorillas and Jose Chameleon, but it’s also the 7th largest coffee producer in the world and 2nd largest in Africa.” The magazine continues…”In the East close to the Kenyan border on Mt. Elgon, there is a region that is producing some of the most exquisite Arabica coffee you will ever taste anywhere in the world; this is the coffee of Bugisu…Bugisu is one of the few single origin coffees that can be served as is, without the need to blend. It’s rustic and earthy with citric tones, and as a milk based drink, it cuts through with some warm chocolate flavours.”
In our years of childhood, our fathers would not sell coffee beans. They wouldn’t sell coffee in tins. Despite the financial needs, coffee was to be sold through our primary cooperative societies. That was the tradition.
On our heads, we would carry sacks and tins of coffee to our nearest primary societies. It was here that coffee was received weighed and stored. We noted the kilos for reconciliation at the time of payment.
Lorries branded MAN, Grow More Coffee from Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU) would come to carry coffee from our local societies. The national buyer was Coffee Marketing Board (CMB), who would export coffee and bring us cash after a few months.
Payments were handsome. With that money, our parents paid our fees, built iron-sheet houses, paid dowries for our brothers, bought gomesi’s for our mothers, bought meat and sugar for our celebrative consumption. I must say it was a good trade off —coffee exchanged for money.
Shalelo, tsimwanyi bakulisila mumukunda – bakulisa bimuli – bakulisa kamatunda mumikyebe – bakulisa khukula chapatti ni khunywa buusela! Tsisosaita tsayikila tse babetswa ni basamba metsi loosely translated as; Today some farmers due to poverty sell coffee beans while still growing or flowering to get some quick money for chapatti and alcohol. Coffee societies have been taken over by strangers and foreigners.
We can no longer take our children to good school from the sale of our precious coffee. We can no longer meet the father responsibilities like our fathers. We are selling our birthright to Jacob.
Perhaps I need to share the Esau – Jacob story…
“…When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25:29-34). There you have it. For a pot of stew, poor hungry Esau sold his birthright.
Eric Mukhwana – MIICT&CA, Inzu Ya Masaaba