Oliva Kishero & Joseph Kishero Keith

Coffee farmers and members of Gumutindo Coffee
Co-operatives Enterprises, Uganda


Oliva Kishero ©Simon Rawles
Oliva Kishero, 33, and her husband Joseph Kishero Keith, 45, own and run their organic certified coffee farm in Gowosi village on the slopes of Mount Elgon, on the border with Kenya. They belong to their local Buginyanya Primary Co-operative Society which has 690 members and is in turn a member of Gumutindo Coffee Co-operative Enterprises, a union of six primary or village co-operatives. The farms are located at elevations of between 2,000 and 3,500 metres1. The rich volcanic soil, warm climate and plentiful rainfall make the area ideal for growing high quality Arabica coffee.

Joseph was born on his father’s coffee farm in Gowosi. They didn’t have enough coffee trees to pay for Joseph’s secondary education but fortunately he was awarded a government bursary and studied to ‘O’ Level at Mbale Senior Secondary School. Once he found a job he could afford to take a distance learning course in management and accountancy training from London. The qualification enabled him to get a job at Buginyanya Senior Secondary School in 1988, where he is now full-time senior accounts assistant.

After the couple married in 1990 Joseph realised he would have to develop the farm to increase their income so that they would have enough money to feed, clothe and educate their growing family that today extends to their own seven children aged 4 to 162 , plus four orphaned cousins aged 6 to 303.

Oliva has worked on the farm since leaving school and getting married. She has learned all aspects of farming under Joseph’s tutelage and is now responsible for the day-to-day running of the farm herself, in consultation with Joseph who helps out whenever he has time. Coffee now provides 60% of their income, the remainder from Joseph’s job. 

[ 1 ] 6,500 – 11,500 feet
[ 2 ]Mariam 4, Tim 6, Rosette 8, Jocelyn 10, Frederick 12, Fiona 14, Esther 16.
[ 3 ]Charis, Chrispas 6, Fred 12, Beatrice 30.

On The Farm

The hilly farm has been terraced and planted with a variety of grasses and plants to prevent soil erosion and the run-off of rain water and the organic fertiliser they prepare on the farm from cow dung.

Coffee is planted across all 2.4 hectares (6 acres) of the farm. New, young coffee trees are planted eight feet apart and intercropped with banana trees, to give protection from the sun, and with beans which are planted as a food crop and to replenish the soil with nitrates. Aubergines and cow peas are grown in smaller plots. They tried growing passion fruit but gave up because of disease. They keep two cows for their milk and also for their dung which is composted to make organic fertiliser. The exotic cows, as they are known, are a cross between hardy, disease resistant African cows and European Friesians which give a high milk yield. Cows are considered to be a store of wealth as they can be sold for a good price in times of trouble.

Workers are hired at various times throughout the year. Two or three help out with weeding for three days a week, and one for pruning. Up to 12 workers are employed three days a week for the three-month harvest period that lasts from September to November or sometimes into December. The workers are local subsistence farmers who own an acre or so of coffee and matoke (plantains), glad of the opportunity to earn some cash.

Green, unripe cherries are left on the trees. Only the ripe red cherries are picked, ready for primary processing on the farm. They are soaked in water to soften, and then fed through a hand-cranked pulping machine that removes and separates the outer pulp from the beans. The pulp is added to their organic compost heap to use as fertiliser for the coffee bushes. Pulping machines are an expensive tool, costing Ush1,000,000 (£280), so they are hired out to farmers who can’t afford to buy their own.

After washing and fermenting the beans are left with a sticky mucus layer and are laid out on racks to dry in the sun. The resulting parchment coffee, so called because of its dry, paper-like protective covering, is then taken to the co-op’s coffee store before being delivered by truck to the GCEE warehouse for sorting and storage, then milling prior to export. In 2005, Oliva and Joseph produced 1,500kg of parchment coffee.

Children help their parents on the farm from an early age so that they gradually learn how to grow coffee and look after the farm. From four years of age they are in the fields for three or four hours a day helping with weeding and picking. They feed the chickens, cows and other animals, milk the cows and are also expected to help with cooking and cleaning.

Oliva Kishero

Oliva was born on a coffee farm in 1973 in the same village that she lives in today. She left school at 17 to get married. She regretted not being able to study to ’O’ Level and eventually, after having four children, went back to school and gained her ‘O’ Level certificate. She couldn’t afford to continue to ‘A’ Level but plans to enrol in a business administration course and would love to get the skills so that she could get a job working for Gumutindo or a similar business. Oliva would particularly like to learn more about coffee marketing and work in that area.

Oliva has been treasurer of Gumutindo for four years and is one of Buginyanya Co-op’s seven committee members. She takes these responsibilities very seriously and is proud that she is setting an example for other women.

“I am a representative of my co-op society and also of our 10 women members. In Africa women are under men, they are left behind. If your husband refuses to let you go to work then you can’t go, that’s final.

“It’s the women who do all the work in the coffee gardens while men ‘supervise’. Women prepare the food and look after the children; they do everything in the home as well. But now women are getting jobs and getting more respect from men. Women have seen me become a successful farmer and a voice in the co-op and many women farmers are interested in joining our co-op. They have seen foreigners come to my farm with their cameras and they admire what I do. Now they also want to earn their own money, to be independent and support their families financially. And now some of the men are realising that it is better for their home if they treat women more equally.”

Gumutindo buys all the coffee its 3,000 members produce and sells 99% of it to Fairtrade buyers. It receives the guaranteed Fairtrade minimum price of 121 cents a pound plus 5 cents Fairtrade social premium and 15 cents organic premium4. This means members can predict their income and plan their finances accordingly.

Since they became involved with Gumutindo in 2000 life has improved for Oliva and Joseph. Oliva says: “Fairtrade is a good idea and makes a big difference to us. It is marketing our coffee and giving us a fair price. And we know we are not being cheated…The fair price helps pay school fees for five of my children who attend boarding school5.”

She explains that life could be very hard before the co-op started buying their coffee. “We women carried the coffee to market on our backs, sometimes to villages 10 kilometres away. The traders would say our coffee is no good and offer us a low price. We had to take what they offered or carry it all the way back to our farms.”

Through her work at the Gumutindo office and Buginyanya Co-op, Oliva has learnt about the different grades of coffee and how to improve the yield and quality of her coffee and also how to deal with people: ‘I was just a farmer but now I’m a businesswoman’.

[ 4 ] On 1 June 2007 the Fairtrade premium was increased to 10 cents/lb and the organic premium to 20 cents/lb.
[ 5 ]The best secondary schools are in Mbale, too far for daily commuting.

Community Benefits

The co-ops receive an additional Fairtrade premium to invest in projects that benefit the farmers and their communities. Each year at the AGM the members discuss how they want to spend the money. They recently built a new village coffee store where members’ coffee can be kept safe and dry away from the sun, rain and dust.

Oliva is a member of the Gumutindo Social Premium Sub-Committee. Their job is to examine the plans of the six member co-ops to make sure they have the budget to carry them out. There is a consensus among members that projects should help the whole community, not just coffee farmers. Future plans include improving local roads: the potholes are so bad in places that only four wheel drive vehicles can use them. The ubiquitous white minibuses can only get so far up many roads and bicycles can’t be used. This means everyone wastes long hours walking up and down the mountain whenever they need to get to the towns on the plain.

Improving schools is a priority. They want to build more classrooms and a computer lab and provide grants or scholarships for the poorer children.

A Better Future

Joseph is in no doubt about the importance of Fairtrade and being a member of Buginyanya Co-op. “The co-op provides a place to sell our coffee quickly. The coffee store is a place where we can meet and discuss coffee matters with other farmers. The co-op provides information about how to improve quality and explains how this will make our coffee more marketable in the future. It pays us in cash when we deliver our coffee and we also get a second payment when the coffee has been sold. No farmers who aren’t members of the co-op get this.

“The co-op will expand to 1,500 members when all the farmers who want to join are able to. First they have to bring their standards up to our level. The Gumutindo committee and co-ordinator help them with this. After joining, they must continue with the process of organic conversion. This is a requirement of membership.”

Joseph explains that before joining the co-op they had a problem selling their coffee. They carried it to the market to people they didn’t know, who cheated them with rigged scales and low prices, pretending that the international price had dropped so that they could offer a low price. Having carried the coffee up and down steep hills for 5km or more they were forced to accept a give-away price rather than carry it back. The traders weren’t interested in paying for good quality coffee, their buyers were only interested in quantity. They mixed good coffee with bad, ruining the reputation of coffee from the area and reducing their market opportunities.

“But Fairtrade came in to solve our problems. Now with the co-op these problems are sorted out. Now we produce coffee knowing we will get a fair price and a stable price, fixed for the season. We can then work out what our income will be and plan for the coming year, for school fees and all our necessities. I feel relaxed and comfortable that I can budget for my family’s needs.”

Joseph’s dream is to see his children educated to degree level – Esther wants to be a doctor and Fiona an engineer. He would love to see one of their children study agriculture and take over and improve the family farm – perhaps they could even start their own coffee trading business one day. Joseph knows it will be a struggle to pay the fees so he and Oliva have planted more coffee trees and hope that the extra money from Fairtrade will help make this dream a reality.

Interviews conducted January 2007

Look for the FAIRTRADE Mark on products. It’s your guarantee that disavantaged farmers and workers in the developing world are getting a better deal.