Building Livelihoods through Coffee: The Story of Uganda’s Women Farmers

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This feature was crafted by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

In the lush yet unstable region of Bududa in eastern Uganda, Mary Butsina, along with an increasing number of female farmers, is cultivating a life centered on coffee. “Coffee supports my entire family of 10 children,” declares the 36-year-old, clutching a red bucket with the backdrop of Mount Elgon.

Having grown up among farming stock, Mary began assisting her father in the fields at just 10 years old. The income from his coffee yield financed her education. Her connection with coffee deepened when she married; her spouse gifted her 100 coffee trees as a wedding present. Mary, however, has since expanded her contribution by planting over 300 trees herself and becoming part of a women’s cooperative. “The goal was to lessen women’s reliance on men within the coffee industry,” she elaborates. The cooperative has approximately 100 female members, but husbands have also been permitted to join as they often own the coffee lands and back their wives in the venture. This inclusion has doubled the total membership to 200, inspiring more women to plant their coffee.

Mary starts her days early, handpicking the arabica coffee cherries. “It’s demanding, but with focus, it can turn easy,” she notes. The collected ripe cherries are placed in water to filter out the diseased ones, followed by a hand-operated pulper to detach the fruit’s skin from the seed, or the coffee ‘bean.’ The beans are then fermented in water for a minimum of two days and left to dry on wooden racks under the sun.

Mary dreams of earning enough to purchase her vehicle for easier water access.
PHOTO CREDIT: DENIS ONYODI

After drying, the beans are assembled and eventually collected by Endiro Coffee, a company that collaborates with women-led, organic farms to mill, roast, and grind the beans, making them ready for consumption.

Mary is able to earn 6,000,000 Ugandan shillings (about £1,300) in a productive season, a considerable sum for her locality. She also has a tailoring job for the rest of the year.

The road hasn’t been smooth for the farmers in Bududa, plagued by yearly landslides for over a decade and a half. In 2018, Mary lost her mother’s home, several family members, and part of her coffee plantation. She aspires to a well-constructed home with accessible water and a personal vehicle, but these are goals that will require time and savings. “I’ve toiled much, and I don’t want to cease, but I desire for my money to labor for me,” she emphasizes.

Products from Endiro Coffee, such as coffee and sauce, are available for purchase at its cafes in Uganda, Kenya, and the US, and online as well.

This piece appeared in Issue 20 (summer 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, please follow this link. (Access limited to certain countries only).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword: Uganda’s female coffee farmers

Who is the main subject of this article about female coffee farmers in Uganda?

Mary Butsina is the main subject, a 36-year-old female coffee farmer in Bududa, eastern Uganda, who has been instrumental in building her livelihood and inspiring other women in her community through coffee farming.

What is the women’s cooperative, and what is its aim?

The women’s cooperative is a collective of female coffee farmers, of which Mary is a member. The aim of the cooperative is to reduce the dependence of women on men in the coffee industry, enabling women to take more control of their livelihoods. Husbands are allowed to join, and the total membership has reached 200.

How does Mary Butsina process the coffee beans?

Mary handpicks the arabica coffee cherries and places them in water to remove unhealthy cherries. She then uses a hand-powered pulper to separate the outer fruit from the seed, or coffee bean, which is then fermented in water for at least two days and dried on wooden racks in the sun.

What company collaborates with the women-led, organic farms?

Endiro Coffee is the social enterprise that works with women-led, organic farms in Uganda. They collect the beans, then mill, roast, and grind them, preparing them for consumption.

What challenges have the farmers in Bududa faced?

Farmers in Bududa have faced annual landslides for the past 15 years, causing destruction and loss. In 2018, Mary’s mother’s house was destroyed, and she lost family members as well as part of her coffee plantation.

Where can Endiro Coffee products be purchased?

Endiro Coffee products can be bought at its cafes across Uganda, Kenya, and the US, as well as online.

What are Mary’s future aspirations?

Mary hopes to earn enough money to buy her own vehicle for easier water access, and she dreams of living in a solidly built house with water nearby. She also wants her money to work for her, indicating a desire for financial stability and growth.

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5 comments

Sarah Thompson August 14, 2023 - 9:08 pm

Mary’s story is so inspiring. wish i could do something to help these farmers. any idea how to contribute??

Reply
Michael O'Reily August 14, 2023 - 10:49 pm

This is what we need more of, real stories of real people. The way they turned a hard life into something positive, through coffee farming, amazing stuff.

Reply
James Mckenzie August 15, 2023 - 6:16 am

Wow, this article really opend my eyes to whats happening in Uganda’s coffee industry. Never thought how hard these women work. They should get more recognition!

Reply
Tom Johnson August 15, 2023 - 1:43 pm

Landslides, hard work, and still they keep going. These farmers show what’s possible if you really put your mind to it. where can i buy their coffee? I’d love to support them.

Reply
Emma_Lee August 15, 2023 - 6:37 pm

i love coffee and knowing where it comes from makes it taste even better. Can’t believe the hard work of these women; they are amazing, thanks for sharing this.

Reply

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