Coffee is About Community

Originally Posted by our partner association, Joint Marketing Initiative.

May 1st. We shall never forget that day… We shall never forget” says Jthungu Teddy. I pick my way across a ruined concrete bridge, a rock bed and a makeshift foot bridge to cross from Kyalhumba to Musasa over the Nyamughasana River (Lukonzo Name) with Teddy and Paineto leading the way.


The Nyamughasana had been flowing high, but, on May 1st, 2013, the community watched as the river continued rising and flooded the banks of Kyondo and Kyalhumba sub-counties. It washed away homes, farm-land, roads and bridges. The flood was so large that the river’s course shifted and the people are still adjusting to the new path the Nyamughasana carves through their community.


We are on our way to visit the Musasa Lower Coffee Washing Station where Teddy is a leader and driving force behind the improved coffee processing methods introduced by Bukonzo Joint Coffee Cooperative (BJC) last year. Baluku Paineto is a community leader in Kyalhumba and the Managing Director of BJC.


We arrive on the Musasa side of the river and Teddy points out a spot where about 8 or 10 homes were washed away. A two meter drop-off and a field of rocks and debris is all that’s left. Many residents were able to remove their valuables (including coffee pulpers and other income generating equipment) before their homes were swept away, but, many people’s personal belongings were washed downstream.


In the greater scope of the flood, it was reported that 4 people lost their lives. The residents of Musasa and Kyalhumba were able to evacuate their homes before the water swept them away, however, Teddy says that they still have trouble sleeping at night. The flood came within 5 meters of her home.

The Nyamughasana destroyed two of Teddy’s fields, depriving her and her family of sweet potatoes, corn, cassava and beans for the season. She had just taken out a 1.5 million shilling loan (about $600 USD) to purchase one of the fields. In the wake of the flood she is buying food from the local market, in lieu of growing it, while still paying the loan for her land. The additional financial burden is primarily being paid for by her coffee, but the extra costs of living are a struggle for her family.

Paineto explains how the river washed away two of their electrical towers. The community had been waiting for electricity since 2008. They had a week long trial period with power shortly before the flood. They recovered the poles downstream and plan to reinstall them, but they fear that the project may be held up by the flood.


The entire community was locked in, except by foot, because they lost a major portion of the main road to Kasese. When approached, the Ugandan government estimated a two year waiting period before they would be able to fix the road. Paineto began mobilizing community members to take matters into their own hands. Within 14 days of the flood people from the community all pitched in to dig a new road connecting them to Kasese. Some residents had to donate their plots of land in order to make the road. They each lost a plot of farm land equivalent to about two months worth of food, having to cut down bananas and cassava to dig the new way out of town. These families are currently applying to the government to compensate them for their plots. The Kaylhumba community is also keeping these families in mind throughout the harvest because of their sacrifice. All together, it took the town 30 days to dig a 5 km stretch of road with 30 full time volunteers and regular help from anyone passing by.


The destruction of infrastructure threatened BJC’s ability to procure coffee. But even a natural disaster of this proportion could not put a stop to their production. It did make things quite a bit more difficult. Before the flood, BJC’s truck could haul loads of coffee across the bridge from Musasa Lower Washing Station to the BJC warehouse in Kyalhumba town.


Because the only way across is currently on foot, members of the cooperative hauled the coffee on there backs to the other side. The community members had to rebuild the footbridge four times before they finally constructed one that would stay in place with the river still raging below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The community has plans to construct a temporary bridge that will serve them during the two year waiting period for road construction from the Ugandan government. The bridge will be made out of logs and wood and will allow for motorcycles to pass. They will have to wait for a more permanent bridge before they will be able to have vehicle access for the river crossing. The total cost of the temporary bridge will be 3,500,000 shillings (about $1,400 USD). The community is seeking the support of Bukonzo Joint Coffee Cooperative and is also beginning to collect the money amongst themselves. BJC is considering postponing a Fairtrade Social Premium project in order to divert the Fairtrade Premium to help construct the new bridge.

Bukonzo Joint Coffee Cooperative is proud to be a community driven, grass roots organization. They believe that improving the quality of life for farmers in Kyalhumba is directly linked to the quality of coffee they produce. They are working and learning to improve both.