Gitwe stretches from Heza washing station all the way to the main road that runs through the northern province of Kayanza. At almost every hour the hill bustles with the activity of village life. People run alongside cars with baskets full to the brim with onions and potatoes to sell. Carpenters craft planks of wood into tables in the small town’s centre. Fig trees stand tall on either side of the hill, casting a welcoming shade from the hot East African sun. An assortment of onions, sweet potato, maize, banana, cassava, beans and cabbage are grown alongside coffee in the hill’s rich soils.
Gitwe carries deep scars from its violent past. Yet, there is an unrivalled unity amongst the people here. They have worked hard to develop as a community, coming together to build schools for their children and homes for their neighbors. With the help of Anicet and Patrice, the two coffee scouts dedicated to working on the hill, they are learning best farming practices. Before the scouts, farmers weren’t aware of the harm antestia bugs – the colourful critter linked to the potato defect – could cause to their coffee. There was no one to show them how to prune their trees or explain why it was important. They didn’t know how to mulch or fertilize their farms. The scouts’ hard work has renewed farmers’ interest in growing coffee. Gitwe farmers are now pioneering a way of irrigating their coffee by building water channels
alongside their farms. These channels collect rain water, which slowly irrigates their coffee trees and other crops. The Long Miles farm can be found on one of Gitwe’s slopes, just above the washing station. Here our coffee trees are grown alongside our neighbors. The 2018 coffee season will be the first time we harvest and taste coffee from our very own farm.
CHALLENGES: Gitwe struggles to get access to clean drinking water and people often get sick from bacteria found in the water. There are many farming families spread over the hill, each owning a small piece of land. With little room for expansion, it is hard for farmers to maximize their production of coffee and other subsistence crops. The changing climate means that rains don’t fall when they are expected to. When the rain does fall, the daily downpours can wash the good soils into the valley below. The scouts are working with farmers to plant green manures to help return nutrients to the hill’s soils.
FUTURE: Coffee is a life-line for most of the people on this hill. Producing coffee helps the farmers to pay for school fees, clothing, livestock and home repairs. Farmers hope to develop their coffee crops to ensure a good future for their children and the community.