Waking up to Gorilla Coffee in Uganda

By Sarah Marshall Posted on 22 March 2018

The monochrome mural of a silverback peers from behind whirring espresso machines at Gorilla Conservation Cafe in Entebbe, Uganda, a hip, downtown hangout that could easily fit into New York or London.

The same enchanting face emblazons bags of roasted arabica beans stacked on shelves, the fruits of a social enterprise that’s benefitting both gorillas and their human neighbours.

“Kanyonyi” — the name of the gorilla in question — “was one of my favourite mountain gorillas,” explains Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a Ugandan veterinarian and modern-day Dian Fossey, who launched the Gorilla Conservation Coffee project as an arm of her NGO Conservation Through Public Health.

Kanyonyi’s troop, Mubare (or M-group), were the first habituated gorilla group introduced to tourism 25 years ago this April. But sadly, earlier this year, Kanyonyi died from injuries sustained in a fight with a rival silverback, causing the group to fragment and leading to their temporary removal from tourism.

“I knew Kanyonyi since he was born 20 years ago,” says Gladys fondly, studying the image which also appears on T-shirts for sale. “He was a playful silverback who always liked interacting with tourists.”

Fittingly, the team decided to name its first blend after the silverback, allowing his spirit to live on in a project likely to change the lives of many.

How can a double espresso help save gorillas?

A wave of densely forested hills rolling into misty skies, Bwindi is home to several of Uganda’s habituated gorilla groups — along with a rapidly increasing human population. With these neighbours coming into closer contact, it became apparent there was a need to alleviate any building pressures.

“Not everyone in the region can benefit directly from tourism,” explains Gladys, who was awarded the Golden Jubilee Award for distinguished service to the nation as a conservationist. “We’re working with farmers who sometimes poached to meet their basic needs. Our goal is to get them totally away from poaching.”

There’s a long history of coffee production in Uganda, although most farmers concentrate on the bitter robusta bean which is easier to grow. CTPH is encouraging farmers to improve methods and shift to arabica, a higher grade and more profitable coffee on the international market.

“During our first training sessions we realized the farmers all knew how to do it properly; they were just taking shortcuts. We told them that if they did it properly, we’d guarantee a premium price.”

In a market where prices fluctuate, it was an appealing proposition.

A portion of the final sales of coffee beans is donated to gorilla conservation, but an even greater result is an improved attitude from the community towards wildlife. Tourists, who can buy beans from lodges in the area and even Entebbe International airport, form a bulk of the consumer market – and their very presence relies on the existence of gorillas.

Seen the wildlife? Now go on a gorilla safari.

Reviving farmland which lay idle in his family generations, Sam is one of the 70-plus farmers currently benefitting from the Gorilla Conservation Coffee. Clambering down steep muddy slopes in the hills outside town, he excitedly shows me some of his plants and invites me to pick the ripe red cherries.

Sam, who is chairman of the Bwindi Coffee Farmers’ Co-operative, has just launched a one-hour coffee safari in conjunction with CTPH, inviting tourists to find out exactly how the bean to cup process works.

“I’m learning better techniques and every harvest I have a higher yield,” he tells me as we watch fresh cherries selected using a simple water system (the bad ones float to the top), and continue to see a fermented mixture pulped and dried. All the work here is done by hand.

Everyone — no matter how small their patch of land — is now interested in coffee production. “My wife, Juliet, has her own plot,” says Sam, admitting, “It’s much better than mine!”

And what about the gorillas?

“They do come,” laughs Sam. “But not very often. If they do, we get a member of HUGO (another initiative set up by CTPH) to chase them away.

More than anything, Sam is proud to drink his own coffee on his own farmland — an experience he invites me to share. “I’m very happy I can do this,” he says, sipping the thick back liquid heated on a stove. “It’s very special.”

I have to agree. And the coffee’s pretty good, too.

To buy Gorilla Conservation Coffee, visit ctph.org and gccoffee.org.


Dr Gladys’ tribute to Kanyonyi

It is with great sadness to inform you about the loss of one of my favorite gorillas in Bwindi ImpenetrableNational Park, Kanyonyi, the lead silverback of Mubare group who died on Friday night.

Kanyonyi first fell off a tree, but while he was recovering after treatment, a lone silverback fought with him because he wanted to take over his group. Kanyonyi in his weakened state was not able to put up a good fight, and sustained many injuries, which though they were healing, left him weaker than usual. When I last visited Kanyonyi he was eating quite well, but still limping and walking slowly, with one adult female gorilla, Karungyi and her baby keeping close by his side. He made a nest in front of us to take a comfortable morning nap, and we were able to record a brief video. I would like to thank the Uganda Wildlife Authority park staff  and Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) team who have kept a close watch over Kanyonyi to prevent him from having more interactions with the lone silverback until he was strong enough. Fighting amongst free ranging gorillas is considered to be part of their normal behavior patterns and enables natural group succession.Conservation Through Public Health participated in the post mortem yesterday, which confirmed the major cause of his death to be an infection in the hip joint after the fall.

I have known Kanyonyi since he was a baby, when he was born 20 years ago. In 1998, I successfully operated on his older sister, then a juvenile gorilla called Kahara when she had a rectal prolapse. She was named Kahara because she liked to babysit him. Kanyonyi became the lead silverback of Mubare gorilla group in 2012, after his father, Ruhondeza died. Ruhondeza was the lead silverback of the first gorilla group to be habituated for tourism in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Kanyonyi was a playful young silverback who liked interacting with human visitors. Over the past five years, Kanyonyi has kept the Mubare gorilla group together and enabled it to grow through attracting many females.

When we started the Gorilla Conservation Coffee social enterprise in 2015 to support farmers living around Bwindi, we decided to name our first coffee blend after Kanyonyi who symbolizes the gorilla conservation efforts at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park since tourism began in 1993.

May his legacy continue through stories, memories and the Kanyonyi coffee blend.

Great Tasting Coffee with a Purpose

In September 2017, I had the privilege of visiting the Bwindi Impenetrable Park in Western Uganda. Seeing the mountain gorillas has been a long and closely held dream and I was thrilled to realise it in this very special place. As a first-time visitor to Uganda, I came with a suitcase full of imagination fuelled by all the things I had read about East Africa and the gorillas. And I can safely say I took back more than I brought. Not counting the beautiful memories of forest and the people, my most priced take-away from Bwindi was the Ugandan coffee I bought from Gorilla Conservation Coffee (GCCoffee).

As I sip on a cup of this medium roast blend on a nippy December evening in Mumbai, where I live, its aroma infuses in me a warm feeling. This unique marriage of aroma and taste has also become a favourite of my friends, some of whom are budding coffee connoisseurs, having had coffee from several parts of the world.

For me however, what’s most special about this coffee is what it symbolises. GCCoffee is a social enterprise that is committed to providing sustainable livelihoods to Ugandans living around the Bwindi Impenetrable Park: a UNESCO world heritage site and home to nearly half of the world’s 880 surviving mountain gorillas. Created through a partnership between Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) and WWF Switzerland, GCCoffee is available across Uganda and can also be ordered online here.

CTPH is an NGO with a mission to improve the health of both the mountain gorillas and the people living close to them. Its founder Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, who I had the fantastic opportunity of meeting, told me how she had the idea of starting GCCoffee when she met the farmers living in and around Bwindi. Since its inception in 2015, it has brought prosperity to coffee farmers in the region. Dr. Zikusoka is an Ashoka Fellow and a well-known champion of gorilla conservation. She says providing livelihood opportunities to farmers is key to meeting conservation goals as it reduces people’s dependency on the forest. This has led to healthier people, gorillas and forests in Bwindi, making it a unique example of humans and protected forests co-existing peacefully.

Coming back to my cup, it is sometimes difficult to fathom if and how our product choices can lead to improved lives and a healthier planet.  But the coffee from GCCoffee does just that. With every bag of coffee, you can not only help conserve a forest unmatched in its biodiversity, but also support a community that’s bearing the collective cost of protecting this forest for all of humanity.

And well, if that isn’t alluring enough, the coffee is possibly the best you will ever have, so I highly recommend you try it.

Written by Annie James


GCCoffee is a for-profit social enterprise aiming to improve livelihoods of coffee farmers and protect mountain gorillas in the area. GCCoffee buys coffee at a premium, processes and sells it as a branded roasted coffee, whose purchase includes a donation to Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH).

GCCoffee pays a premium price to enable marginalised small-holder coffee farmers living in remote sub-counties bordering Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to improve their lives, which keeps them from resorting to damaging the forest through activities like poaching and removing resources like wood. This in turn helps protect the gorillas and their habitat.

GCCoffee also provides training and capacity building to farmers to improve sustainable agriculture practices. GCCoffee targets coffee drinkers and tourists via shops, tourist lodges, airports and international distributors to market and sell coffee.

See details here https://www.seed.uno/awards/all/2017/gorilla-conservation-coffee.html

Gorilla Conservation Coffee Safari

By Mark Jordahl, Natural Habitat Adventures Posted on October 2, 2017 0

Mountain gorillas are some of our closest relatives, sharing as much as 98 percent of our human genes. This remarkable similarity is part of what makes it so profound to spend an hour with these gentle giants on one of our gorilla safaris. Unfortunately, this similarity also means that we can share diseases, and disease transmission from humans to the gorillas poses one of the greatest threats to their survival.

The realization that you can’t address the health of mountain gorillas without also addressing the health of the human communities nearby led Gladys Kalema, the first female veterinarian with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, to create a project called Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). The team members from CTPH do direct monitoring of gorilla health, and also educate the locals on family planning, personal hygiene, reducing reliance on forest products like firewood, sustainable agricultural techniques, and ways to reduce conflict with the wild gorillas who often enter their farms looking for an easy meal.

Community conservation education in Uganda

Wildlife conservation is not a one-solution issue, and perhaps one of the most important aspects of any conservation program in Africa is helping local people find economic alternatives to extracting resources from natural areas. Any time people enter the protected areas that harbor the mountain gorillas to collect firewood, cut bamboo, or hunt for bush meat, the chance of disease transmission increases. But if those community members have no other source of income, they will do what it takes to feed their families.

CTPH recently received funding from WWF-Switzerland to launch a coffee enterprise to benefit the Buhoma community adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to nearly half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. In July 2017, a small group of Natural Habitat Adventures travelers were the first to have the opportunity to visit the Gorilla Conservation Coffee project on a “coffee safari.”

Coffee safari in Uganda

Coffee is a great crop to grow on the border of gorilla habitat because, so far, mountain gorillas have not caught on to the wonders of drinking coffee. Coffee and tea plantations can create a buffer between the forest and food crops, because the gorillas entering the plantations will turn back, thinking that there is nothing for them to feed on in the area.

The coffee farmers in Buhoma have formed a cooperative to sell fresh coffee beans at a premium to Gorilla Conservation Coffee. The project has invested in processing equipment that gets the beans to the point of being ready to roast. The beans are then sent to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, where they are roasted and packaged for sale. The income from the coffee supports local farmers and CTPH’s work protecting critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Natural Habitat Adventures travelers sampling coffee in Uganda

At Natural Habitat Adventures, we are proud to partner with an organization like WWF that looks for opportunities across the globe to provide seed funding that results in long-term, sustainable solutions like this that benefit both people and wildlife. Gorilla trekking in Uganda is one of the many ways that you can support innovative conservation projects like these.

And hey—the world can always use more delicious coffee, right?

Uganda Gorilla Conservation Coffee

© Gorilla Conservation Coffee

Meet Kanyonyi!

The 100% Arabica Kanyonyi Coffee Blend is named after the former lead silverback gorilla of Mubare Gorilla Group, the first group habituated for tourism at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

Kanyonyi was named after the little stream where he was born in 1996. The 100% Arabica Kanyonyi Coffee Blend is our first coffee blend and named after the former lead silverback gorilla of Mubare Gorilla Group, the first group habituated for tourism at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

We have named the blend after Kanyonyi because he signified what has been achieved in conservation since Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was made a National Park in 1992 and tourism began in 1993. Kanyonyi’s father – Ruhondeza – was heading Mubare group when tourism began in Bwindi, and his accommodating nature brought significant benefits to the Bwindi local community.

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, as the first Veterinary Officer of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, successfully operated on Kanyonyi’s older sister who had a rare condition of a rectal prolapse, and was named Kahara because she liked to baby-sit her younger brother, Kanyonyi. When Ruhondeza died in 2012 the local community came to pay their last respects, showing that their relationship with the park management has greatly improved and that the local community values mountain gorillas. Our hopes are that the Kanyonyi Coffee Blend will continue to build upon these conservation efforts by providing a meaningful livelihood to farmers who live next door to the critically endangered mountain gorillas.

You can read more about Kanyonyi and mountain gorilla conservation on the Conservation Through Public Health web site.

Click here to buy Gorilla Conservation Coffee for yourself, family and friends around the world to support and good cause. Join us in #SavingGorillasOneSipAtATime