On the foothills of Mt.Elgon, the best coffee grows near the top of ridges that jut above deep valleys. Gibuzaale is a micro-region within Buginyanya, which is one of the highest of these narrow plateaus. Coffee from all the way up to the park border finds its way down to the Gibuzaale Washing Station where day lots are traceable down to the individual farmer. When deliveries range from 3 to 30 KGs of cherries, this is no easy task.
We know, because this was our very first job in coffee – reviving washing stations on Mt. Elgon which had been dormant for the past sixty years. With the help of USAID, the Bugisu Cooperative Union and a Swiss Investor, the rebooting of these washing stations – and mobilization of farmers into groups – was how Crop to Cup got in the coffee business in the first place in 2005. Over the years quality increased alongside yield, prices and interest for specialty Ugandans – specifically from this area.
While we are still working with many of the same farmers, the structures are no longer in place. Over the years we have supported a variety of grassroots efforts to organize smallholders outside of multinational export channels, and in 2021 we came across an old colleague who was trying to do the same.
Robert Byaruhanga split-off from international exporters to found Funzo Coffee in 2019. Funzo means ‘learning’ and is his vehicle for putting to use all that he has learned over his nearly three decades in coffee. With Funzo, Robert inherited the networks, acumen and credibility from before, into a value-add exporter that is geared to represent and support independents. This ‘premium-parchment farmers group’ includes many of the same people who worked with us over 15 years ago, now under a new umbrella. In a very short time Robert has reestablished these networks to the point of achieving FairTrade certification, cementing the role of Funzo on Mt. Elgon and providing Crop to Cup with a like-minded export partner.