Once upon a time, Ethiopian Kaldj, while herding his goats observed hegoats mount females with energy and excitement after eating the leaves and fruits of a rare wild plant. The goats produced and multiplied in number in a short time. This plant was later on discovered to be coffee of Arabica type.
So, Ethiopians domesticated and commercialized this new discovery. They started taking coffee – from leaves and berries, presumably to emulate the performance of the goats – I’m kidding. In some of Ethiopian localities, natives still drink herbal tea made from the leaves of the coffee tree.
It came to be called Arabica Coffee in the seventh century when the bean crossed the Red Sea from Ethiopia to present-day Yemen and the lower Arab peninsula -hence arabica. It’s also called the “coffee shrub of Arabia” Arabica is also the Merlot of coffee, its mild taste a seductive evocation of sweetness, light and mountain air.
In Uganda, cultivation of Arabica Coffee started in 1912 by the Bagisu. We call them tsimwanyi or zimwanyi or imwanyi or lipesa in Lumasaaba. It’s our money maker. Tsimwanyi is the inheritance that was given to us by our forefathers. It’s our birthright. We are the exclusive producers of Bugisu AA coffee beans in the whole world.
In Crema Magazine of Australia, they write, “…..Uganda is not only a home of endangered Mountain Gorillas and Jose Chameleon, but it’s also the seventh largest coffee producer in the world and 2nd largest in Africa.” The magazine continues…”In the East close to the Kenyan border on Mt. Elgon, there is a region that is producing some of the most exquisite Arabica coffee you will ever taste anywhere in the world; this is the coffee of Bugisu…Bugisu is one of is one of the few single origin coffees that can be served as is, without the need to blend. It’s rustic and earthy with citric tones, and as a milk based drink, it cuts through with some warm chocolate flavours.”
In our years of childhood, our fathers would not sell coffee beans. They wouldn’t sell coffee in tins. Despite the financial needs, coffee was to be sold through our primary cooperative societies. That was the tradition.
On our heads, we would carry sacks and tins of coffee to our nearest societies. It was here that coffee was received weighed and stored. We noted the kilos for reconciliation at the time of payment.
Lorries branded MAN, Grow More Coffee from Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU) would come to carry coffee from our local societies. The national buyer was Coffee Marketing Board (CMB), who would export coffee and bring us cash after a few months.
Payments were handsome. With that money, our parents paid our fees, built iron-sheet houses, paid dowries for our brothers, bought gomesi’s for our mothers, bought meat and sugar for our celebrative consumption. My brothers and sisters who are living in their 40s and above can attest to this.
I must say it was a good trade off —coffee exchanged for money.
Shalelo, tsimwanyi bakulisila mumukunda, bakulisa kamatunda mumikyebe, bakulisa khukula chapatti ni khunywa buusela! Tsisosaita tsayikila tse babetswa ni basamba metsi.
We can no longer take our children to school from the sale of our precious coffee. We can no longer meet the father responsibilities like our fathers. We are selling our birthright to Jacob.
Perhaps I need to share the Esau – Jacob story…
“…When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25:29-34). There you have it. For a pot of stew, poor, hungry Esau sold his birthright.
I came to learn that Samson Kitutu (the Founder President of BCU from 1954 – 1958), S.K. Mutenyo (second BCU President from 1958 – 1962), X.M.M Gunigina (third BCU President from 1962) fought against colonialists and politicians to start BCU as an umbrella marketing body for coffee farmers in Masaabaland. The gallant men turn in their graves and look at us selling coffee to Jacob for a morsel.
When I look at Kitutu House, BCU House, Mt. Elgon Hotel and such other assets, I salute those visionary men who saw today from their yesterday.
As squabbles continue at BCU, nobody sits at UCDA to negotiate for us. Only Natalisire Martin Mutuma is a Board Member (representing Sukuya ACE) of Uganda Cooperative Alliance.
Questions from our own children await us as to where we took their inheritance that their great grandfathers passed onto us. Even in death, we shall be ashamed if we shall not provide good answers.