KYAMPUNGU, Uganda (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Like many young rural Ugandans, Christine Kyakunda needs more land. She and her husband farm 1.5 acres - some inherited, some bought, some borrowed from her widowed mother-in-law - but it is not enough to provide for her family.
“My kids now eat potatoes, cassava and beans,” the 23-year-old said of the crops, which are eaten by the poorest, and that they grow on one-third of their holding in Kyampungu, a small village in the country’s southwest.
The remaining two-thirds is covered in coffee shrubs. Coffee has become lucrative in recent years, and more land would mean more money. Then, she said, her children - aged six and two - “would be eating bread, milk with sugar, and eggs”.
She could also benefit from having better access to markets. A project launched earlier this year in Kanungu district, where she lives, should help her and other young people who struggle to access land.
Along with other smallholders, Kyakunda is optimistic that the three-year European Union-funded project will enable her family to get more land and improve their livelihoods.
Mukasa Joseph, who drives a motorcycle taxi known as a boda boda, is one of those. He has grown coffee for five years, but a lack of land means he struggles to earn enough.
More land would also allow him to buy a taxi, he said. That would boost his status from “a boda boda rider to a taxi driver”.
Since March, officials have been recruiting and training staff, and talking to communities, said Sam Viney, communications officer for Farm Africa, a charity involved with the project.
The goal is to put coffee-farming in the hands of 3,600 young people. It will do that by encouraging land-owning farmers to let younger family members use some of their land for growing the bean.
“We will engage communities through workshops to sign community land-use agreements that give youths and women access to land,” said project coordinator Amodoi Vincent.
With those agreements in place, young men and women would not only “have access to land but will also have control over it,” said Viney.
“Some of the farmers we have met have tens or even hundreds of acres of land, but some of the young farmers are working on less than two or three acres,” Viney said.
Farming is about access to land, said Fredrick Muhanguzi, the farmers’ organization specialist at the ministry of agriculture, animal industry and fisheries.
But most parents, he said, do not want to hand their children land on which to grow perennial crops - such as coffee - that have a cycle longer than two years and which are therefore considered a long-term investment.
“This is the reason coffee-farming is looked at as an enterprise of old people,” he said, adding that when the ministry hands out free coffee seedlings, young people are reluctant to take them, because they have nowhere to plant them.
“Coffee farming is only in the hands of those aged 60 and above,” he said.
The project will tackle a linked issue: unemployment. Some 78 percent of Uganda’s 37.6 million people are under 30, the 2014 census showed.
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics said that under its loose definition of unemployment, 16.4 percent of those 16-30 were jobless as of 2015.
Half an acre of land would allow an unemployed person to make a living from coffee, said Joshua Rukundo, who heads the Kigezi Coffee Development Academy, a locally-based community group. That would bring fundamental changes.
“Even if it is half an acre and you give it to your child to grow coffee now, in a period of three years it is a done deal of harvesting coffee,” Rukundo said.
According to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), a single acre can host 450 Robusta coffee trees or 600 Arabica trees. Each tree can yield 10 kilograms of coffee a year, with each kilogram worth about 4,000 Ugandan shillings ($1).
One acre, then, can generate average monthly revenues of up to $500, a large sum in Uganda where the employed earn an average 416,000 shillings ($110) a month, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics’ national household survey of 2013.
The project will not only train young people to grow quality coffee; it will teach them the skills to process it and connect them to new markets, including for export, said Daniel Mugura, business development officer for Farm Africa.
To that end, the project will work with four coffee-growing cooperatives, he said.
“We will help them ... access coffee-processing machinery to process and add value to their coffee - and be able to supply the bigger markets nationally and internationally where they are able to get better prices,” he said.
Seventy-year-old George Tibamwenda, a retired priest, chairs one of the cooperatives involved in nearby Rugyeyo village.
He is enthusiastic about the project’s ability to provide land and employment to young people.
He is also a big fan of coffee - it has, he said, been good to him since he started growing it in 2011 on three acres of his land. His remaining three acres are divided between bananas and tea.
His income from coffee had allowed him a much better life, he said, and he hopes his children - who are aged between 26 and 46 - will follow in his footsteps and earn enough to build their own homes, buy land and send their children to good schools.
Looking ahead, said Allawi Ssemanda, a youth activist and PhD student with an interest in land governance, it was not just parents who were to blame for hanging on to idle land: politicians and cultural institutions were also guilty.
The solution, he said, was heavy taxation of unused land “to force (owners) to give it to youths at a small fee or no cost to make it productive”, and for government to lease its land at low cost to young people for farming.
Reporting by Fredrick Mugira @mugira; Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.