It’s a long journey from a tiny bean growing in the mountains of Uganda to your first morning cup of coffee in the UK, nearly 7000km away. To learn more about this journey, some SVRG members visited a coffee processing facility funded by the Lutheran World Group near Kasese, Uganda in November, 2020. This facility works with surrounding communities to ensure that they can sell coffee at a fair price to be exported globally. SVRG also works on energy and agricultural projects, alongside our partners Kiima Foods, with some of these coffee-producing communities such as Mbata and Mukorokumi.
Coffee beans are, surprisingly, not actually beans! They are seeds of a coffee cherry, and these seeds can be planted to grow into coffee trees. Planting is generally done in the wet season as wet soil allows the roots of the coffee tree to dig firmly into the ground.
In Mbata, near Kasese, coffee is grown on the steep sides of the Rwenzori mountain range. It is both too expensive and too difficult because of poor roads to get coffee harvesting machines to Mbata, so coffee cherries here are picked by hand.
3. Sorting and Processing
The cherries are then sorted to ensure that the batch does not contain any bad fruits, and laid out on large sheets on the ground to dry in the sun. They can be turned throughout the day, and covered to prevent them from getting wet if the rains start. There are two main forms of processing for coffee beans – “wet” and “dry”.
“Wet processing” refers to removing the beans from the coffee cherry then drying the beans, whereas “dry processing” refers to drying the coffee beans fully in the cherry before extracting them.
4. Transportation to Processing Plant
Once the beans have dried sufficiently, the coffee farmers transport their beans to a processing plant such as the one that SVRG visited. This can be done by farmers putting the beans on the back of a motorbike, but is often done by carrying sacks of beans on their backs down from their farms on the mountainsides.
5. At the Processing Plant
There is a wide range of very large machinery at the processing plant which processes the beans. These machines remove the husk of dried cherries, then grade and sort the beans by weight and size, removing substandard beans as they travel through the system. The beans from different locations are kept separate unless a buyer request a specific blend, as some buyers specifically want coffee from Mbata – each region will have a different, specific taste due to different climatic conditions and growing practices.
6. Export and Sale
The milled beans are called ‘green coffee’, and are ready to be exported. The beans from this particular processing plant will be exported throughout the world, and roasted in the importing countries. Customers are assured that all of the farmers who sell beans to this processing plant will be paid a fair wage for their labour and product, as this plant works hard to keep up with fairtrade standards. Buying fairtrade is a fantastic way to ensure, at little or no extra cost, that the people who grow the beans which make your morning cup of coffee receive a fair price for their hard work.