The main operational area of Evergreen Africa is on top and around the high slopes of Wanale Ridge. The ridge is one of the highest foothills of Mount Elgon. It is a volcanic mountain which receives rain most of the year, and its soils are very fertile meaning that, at one time, almost any crop could be grown there.
Arabica coffee grew particularly well in this area and in the 1970s and 1980s it was one of the main Arabica coffee producing areas in Uganda. But the local farmers were not operating in the national or international markets, which left them exposed to ‘middle men’ who were only interested in big profits for themselves resulting in very little – if any – benefit to the farmers themselves. In frustration the local farmers cut down coffee trees and replaced them with tomatoes and other quick gain crops which have not provided any significant income. One of them was Eucalyptus trees which, with their rapid growth and shallow roots, allowed a quick – although minimal – profit. Unfortunately the lack of deep roots and the constant felling of the Eucalyptus resulted in serious soil erosion, such that virtually no useful crops could take hold and grow.
This in turn exposed the people in this community to high levels of poverty, which in many cases resulted in destructive behaviour such as child commercial sex workers, early marriages, robbery and drugs, and an increase in the number of children living rough.
In recent years, efforts have been made to reverse this and a coffee co-operative has been developed known as Zukuka Bora (In the local language of Lugandan ‘Zukuka’ means ‘Wake up! / Be revived!’ which fits well with the reviving effects of coffee plus the desire to ‘wake up’ an essentially ‘sleeping’ industry for quality coffee on the mountain. ‘Bora’ is a Swahili term meaning ‘The Best’). Zukuka Bora is purchasing land, training farmers, providing washing and drying facilities, and opening up markets – crucially cutting out the ‘middle-men’. The one missing link in the co-operative’s chain is the ability to roast the coffee once produced. Until recently, Zukuka Bora outsourced the roasting to an enterprise in Kampala – some 6 hours drive away from Mount Elgon. However, Evergreen has developed a roasting facility to which Zukuka Bora now outsources some of its roasting, much more cost-effectively than before. As well as providing a more efficient and integrated part of the overall chain, the roaster also provides employment and returns a profit which in the last 2 years has equalled the cost of the Professional Development training of one of Evergreen’s Community Health Promoters groups. The plan is to expand this until the Continuing Professional Development is fully covered by the roasting activities.