Vincent Sekankya's former self would not have recognized himself today.
Barely ten years ago, Living in a mud-and-wattle, two roomed house and eking a living any which way he could to provide for his growing family, Sekankya's could not see any hope in the future.
Today he is the proud owner of five acres of coffee or 2250 trees, outside Miseebe trading center, in Mityana, from which he harvests just under 16 tons of coffee a season of exportable quality robusta coffee.
Sekankya's arrives for our interview dressed in a coat and kanzu, riding a motorcycle.
An excitable man in his late 30s he takes us around a part of his farm where the Barry's are heavy on the branches, but still green but will be ready for picking in a few days he says.
The turn around in his fortunes was sparked by a decade long project by the Hans R. Neumann Foundation to help local farmers improve coffee farming. The project kicked off in the Mityana-Mubende area but has now stretched out to Luwero,Nakaseke, Nakasongola, Masaka, Bukomansimbi, Kalungu and Kasese areas.
Under the project the farmers have benefitted from access to better planting materials, have learnt the use of ferterlisers and pesticides and have improved their bargaining power on the market.
"Next I want to park a car in the garage," Sekankya said of the room adjoining his house, which was halfway to the roof with sacks of coffee.
It begun about 15 years ago when the Neumann Coffee Group decided to locate a coffee plantation in Uganda. They leased land, about 2,000 hectares in Kaweri in neighbouring Mubende district, where they proceeded to develop the biggest coffee plantation in Africa.
This season Kaweri farm is set to export 2,500 tons of coffee or two in every hundred bags of coffee produced in Uganda.
But the Neumann family, as a way to give back to an industry on which they have built their fortune, help coffee farmers wherever they can but especially around similar giant plantations in Mexico and Brazil.
"There are millions of small holder farmers around the world are they are living in difficult situations, barely making a living for themselves. A project like this can have a transformative effect," said Stefan Cognigni, the general manager of the Neumann Foundation in Uganda.
But Cognigni was quick to point out that the farmers helped through the project are under no compulsion to sell to Ibero, the Neumann Coffee Group's agents in Uganda.
"The goal is to start up independent organizations that are sustainable," he said.
The 20 households are organized into production organizations (POs), these mobilise farmers, provide extension services and collect coffee. Twenty POs in turn form a depot committee. The depot committees are companies limited by guarantee which help in bulking the produce, provide quality assurance, value addition and marketing. The depot committees are then represented at the Uganda Coffee Farmers Alliance (UCFA), the apex body charged with capacity building, helping with market access, serves as a link to service providers like banks and input suppliers.
"The main challenges facing our farmers -- coffee or otherwise are poor farming methods, no understanding of the value chain, no market information or skills to run their farms as business," said Tony Mugoya, the UCFA executive manager....
As a result he said, the farmers have low productivity and are at the mercy of middlemen and other players, ensuring that they do not get fair value for their sweat.
A cursory assessment of the progress of this model has thrown up some encouraging results.
"A new member benefiting from only the better prices but not yet seen any improvement in yields yet will earn 31 percent more than before. More established members will not only benefit from improved prices but also from improved yields and can see their income jumping between four and scene fold," Mugoya said.
A visit to the heartland of the project provided anecdotal evidence in support of the raw data.
Miserere growers company ltd, the depot committee in Bukera sub county in the last decade has seen their output rise 120 tons from 800 kgs in 2005.
"While membership has increased we have seen more coffee per acre being harvested," said chairman David Katende, while seating in his office, a small four wall room in Miseebe trading center, that also serves as a store for their weighing scales and hulling equipment.
But the quality of the beans to have seen dramatic improvement, with up to 60 percent of coffee sent out by the group is screen 18, the best exportable quality.
"Small things like drying using tarpaulins instead of on the bare ground, proper spacing, pruning of old branches and learning from each other has made the main difference. Of course that we can get better prices from the market is important," Katende said.
In field study schools, where members of a PO make field visits to individual farms and share experiences challenges such as pests, proper fertilizer application and water conservation methods were discussed among themselves and with an extension worker, with lessons taken back to be applied in their respective farms.
"This is more effective than people coming from Kampala or the district headquarters to tell us. With this system we deal with the needs of the day not according to predetermined schedule," Katende explained on the sidelines of one visit to Kibuuto PO.
Ravaged by the coffee wilt disease a few years ago, the Mityana-Mubende region is fighting back using new clonal varieties that have proved resistant to the withering disease.
"We have strategic goal which will see us in the medium term branding and exporting our own coffee, we already working with other partners to do this and to add value to own coffee instead of shipping beans," Mugoya said.
But as the program has progressed while there has been improvements in household incomes there may no have been a corresponding improvements in living standards.
"We have introduced a gender and youth component which through sensitization we are helping households make business plans for themselves which means incomes are better employed not drunk by the head of the family," the Neumann Foundation boss Cognigni said.
"For the youth there is a program to show them the benefits of agriculture and not necessarily coffee, but faster maturing crops,"