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#ThePowerOfOne: Dr Gladys Kalema- Zikusoka on Conserving Gorillas, One Sip at A Time

Recently, a Thursday midmorning found me at the office premises of the Gorilla Conservation Coffee (GCC) at Kiwafu, Entebbe. Curiosity had pushed me to have a conversation with Dr. Gladys Kalema- Zikusoka, the CEO and Co-founder of GCC to learn about their work as a social enterprise in the coffee business.

Upon getting there, one thing struck me; the writing on the wall. If the literal meaning is to go by. The walls have been plastered with different media stories telling the story of Dr. Kalema- Zikusoka. Her role as the pioneering gorilla veterinarian in the country is the common denominator of all the stories written. Twenty three years ago, her journey as a vet began. It still goes on to date. However, she has broadened her wings to fly higher together with her dear husband Lawrence Zikusoka with whom they are co-founders at Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) and GCC. In all the life of CTPH, the organisation has worked with the communities around Bwindi to improve the health of both the gorillas and the communities as a means of combating diseases that could easily wipe them away.

With the passing of time, there was a problem. Human population was growing and the land was not expanding. The communities around Bwindi were invading the forest and in turn causing a health hazard to the gorillas. With this came the exposure of the human contact with the gorillas. The gorillas would easily pick up everything the human beings left behind and that meant transfer of diseases and all. One such a case was a scabies outbreak in 1996 which was Dr. Kalema’s first assignment at Bwindi.

The scabies outbreak was found to be caused by gorilla interaction with the poor hygiene among the communities. “Gorillas are curious animals that they touch everything they come across. They can easily catch diseases once they have human interaction,” tells Dr. Kalema.  “In the case of Bwindi, the gorillas are found to be in the proximity with human settlement unlike other places like the Virungas where they’re up in the forests and people in the valleys. The hygiene among the communities was wanting.”

With a growing human population that looks at the forest for survival, there was need to come up with a solution to avert this interaction. There was a high birth rate with a minimum of 10 children in each household. Children were looked at as service providers to the work being done at home.

Mothers staying up in the hills lacked access to maternal health care and were consequently faced with health challenges. Worse of it, they lacked money to go to health centres. For the conservation of gorillas to be realised, there was need to distract the human population from invading the gorilla space. There was also need to put money in the pockets of the locals to which they had to have a direct contribution. This meant involving them in income generating activities

That is how Gorilla Conservation Coffee was born three years ago. Coffee came out as an idea that was worth exploiting. The routes to gorilla tracking passed through scanty coffee trees. With GCC, the coffee was prioritised. The communities were taught about sustainable agriculture. They were introduced to intentional farming techniques to provide them food and also earn them an income.

The idea was simple yet it had a very big impact. The story is changing lives. “It is such a beautiful thing when you get everyone involved. In situation where you had children waking up to go to the garden to act as scarecrows, they now wake up going to school.”

Men are working with their wives tending their coffee gardens. The most interesting bit is that human interference with gorillas has greatly gone down. Since gorillas do not eat coffee berries, this harmonised the co-existence of the two.

Most importantly though is that there is money trickling down in the pockets of these farmers. They are earning from their coffee. They are minding their business just as the gorillas. It is what you could say to each their own.

The coffee grown by these communities is processed, packaged and sold under the Gorilla Conservation Coffee brand. The sales from the coffee go directly to the pockets of these farmers.

“The idea of conservation has to include the interests of everyone involved. As you conserve the gorillas, you should be able to conserve the people in communities. It is important the co-existence is conserved as well.”

From every pack of coffee, a percentage goes to CTPH which helps with facilitating community and gorilla health. They are currently working with 500 farmers around Bwindi. Coffee reminds the farmers to be self-sustaining other than expect to survive on hand-outs.

“To drink coffee is to be a responsible consumer. The benefits trickle down directly to the household farmers.”

Today, for every pack of coffee, a child is able to go to school. For every cup of coffee, a mother is able to afford a hospital bill.  For every sip of the gorilla conservation coffee, a gorilla is conserved.

It is through that one pack, one cup and one sip that a new story is being told in the effort to conserve gorillas at Bwindi.

You deserve a sip of Gorilla Conservation Coffee

Buy a pack of Gorilla Conservation here.

Photo taken by www.unboundproject.org


Gorilla Conservation Coffee at Oklahoma City Zoo

A taste of Uganda in OKC

In this month’s 405 Magazine, the travel article “Uganda’s Vibrant Life” contains an effort to promote tourism to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to many of the world’s remaining beloved mountain gorillas.

While a trip to Uganda may (and should) sit high on your bucket list, getting there isn’t exactly easy. Now though, thanks to the Oklahoma City Zoo, you can experience a taste of Uganda while helping give back to the mountain gorillas – by stopping into the zoo’s gift shop and picking up a bag of Gorilla Conservation Coffee.

The non-profit Gorilla Conservation Coffee was the brainchild of famed Uganda gorilla veterinarian Dr. Gladys Kalema Zikusoka, founder of Conservation Through Public Health. In working with declining mountain gorilla populations, Dr. Zikusoka realized that since gorillas share 98.4 percent of the same DNA as humans, they were susceptible to many of the same illnesses. She thought that in enlightening local communities about healthcare issues, wellness and family planning, it would incentivize locals to save money, be healthier and focus more on business development, including tourism – all of which have led to a healthier gorilla population.

Uganda’s equatorial climate makes the area around Bwindi a prime coffee growing area, so to raise more money for Conservation Through Public Health, Dr. Zikusoka began to work with local farmers to grow premium coffee crops. These beans are then exported across the globe as Gorilla Conservation Coffee. Not only is the brew some of the best you’ll ever have, but it generates awareness for gorilla conservation, in addition to creating income for local farmers – many of whom are reformed poachers.

The money earned in selling the coffee is then put back into Conservation Through Public Health, allowing it to continue to thrive, as well. So head over to the OKC Zoo and visit the Great EscApe exhibition – and if you feel moved to help these fascinating animals survive in the wild, stop into the gift shop on your way out.

Hotel Stuff South Africa – Online Directory Helps to Promote Gorilla Conservation Coffee

Lorraine Jenks met Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka and Lawrence Zikusoka at a Sustainable Travel summit in Kenya last week and was blown away by their work. Gorilla Conservation Coffee stands for everything we believe in. It ticks every conservation, sustainability and greening box possible. Coffee farmers were identified as being some of the poachers, so in helping them grow top quality coffee and find good markets; the previous poachers are now the guardians of the mountain gorillas. Is that not a wonderful story?

Gorilla Conservation Coffee is 100% premium Arabica that is selectively harvested from only red ripe cherries, hand picked, wet processed and dried under shade. The coffee is tested for quality parameters at every level. It is roasted medium and packed to the highest quality standards. Each cup has a unique aroma with hints of caramel, butter notes and almond, with a citrus taste and a sweet finish.

The team at Hotelstuff and Greenstuff would really like to help promote this product so that it becomes an example for other conservationists to emulate.


Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka’s, Gorilla Conservation Coffee ranked in Top 30 Coffees list in USA

, Lionesses of Africa, January 27, 2019 

Getting global public and industry acknowledgement for your products is always rewarding, and that is certainly the case for multi-award winning entrepreneur and renowned gorilla conservationist, Dr Gladys Kalema- Zikusoka. Her new social enterprise, Gorilla Conservation Coffee, has just been awarded with a top ranking in the prestigious Coffee Review Top 30 Coffees list in the USA. 


Gorilla Conservation Coffee’s flagship and exceptional Kanyonyi Coffee Blend, was selected as the No. 29 coffee on Coffee Review’s list of the Top 30 Coffees of 2018. 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. The coffee is a medium roast, with an origin from Buhoma in South West Uganda. In a blind tasting assessment, the judges scored the coffee 47 out of 69, with 9 points for aroma, 9 points for flavour, 8 points for acidity and structure, 8 points for body, and 8 points for aftertaste, all adding up to ranking in the prestigious Top 30 coffees list.

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The judges described Kanyonyi Coffee Blend as richly sweet, chocolaty, and with dark chocolate, caramel, date, gardenia, cedar in aroma and cup. They went on to commend the deeply sweet structure with round, gentle acidity and a velvety mouthfeel, describing the chocolate-toned finish leading with notes of date and caramel in the short, and cedar and gardenia in the long.

The judges of this year’s Coffee Review Top 30 Coffees list for 2018 said in praise of the Kanyonyi Coffee Blend: “The sale of this impressively chocolaty and floral Uganda cup provides multifaceted support aimed at preserving mountain gorillas in their human and natural environment.”

Gorilla Conservation Coffee pays a premium of $0.50 per kilo above the market price to coffee farmers living close to the gorillas around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, as well as supporting them with training in sustainable coffee farming and processing. Additionally, for each kilo of roasted coffee sold, $1.50 goes directly toward work to preserve mountain gorillas.

To find out more about Gorilla Conservation Coffee and the work of Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, visit the website https://gorillaconservationcoffee.org/ for more information.

Saving Uganda’s Mountain Gorilla’s Through Coffee

Friday, 25 January, 2019, Coffee Magazine

When Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka established Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), an award-winning NGO and non-profit, she had no idea that she would end up working in coffee. CTPH’s work in gorilla and wildlife conservation focused on preventing and controlling disease transmission between humans and gorillas in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda by improving the health and livelihoods of local communities, who were depending on the gorillas’ habitat to meet their basic needs. Land encroachment, competition for food, and the spread of disease all threatened the survival of the critically endangered mountain gorilla.

In 2015, CTPH established a program called Gorilla Conservation Coffee, intending to improve the livelihood of the surrounding community by assisting them in getting international market prices for their Arabica coffee crop and training them in sustainable coffee farming. We chatted to Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka to find out more about Gorilla Conservation Coffee and her work…

What is the story behind Gorilla Conservation Coffee? How did it all come about? 

Gorilla Conservation Coffee is a social enterprise of Conservation Through Public Health, an award-winning NGO and non-profit. Gorilla Conservation Coffee promotes biodiversity conservation by enabling coffee farmers living around protected areas with gorillas to have a viable livelihood through access to markets, where we buy their quality coffee at a premium price, which in turn reduces their need to enter the forest for food and firewood, decreasing threats to gorillas and their habitats. Furthermore, for every roasted and packaged bag of coffee sold, a donation is given to support Conservation Through Public Health’s  community health, gorilla health and conservation education programs enabling sustainable financing for conservation.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee came about when we realized that coffee farmers around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to the endangered mountain gorillas, were not getting a fair price for their coffee, leading them to depend on the gorillas’ habitat to meet their basic needs to feed their families. Supporting the coffee farmers fitted within CTPH’s three integrated programs: wildlife health and conservation, community health and alternative livelihoods.

How does Gorilla Conservation Coffee help conserve the mountain gorillas? Why are they at risk?

Gorilla Conservation Coffee helps to preserve the endangered mountain gorillas by providing sustainable financing for their protection by giving farmers a viable alternative livelihood through coffee farming that takes the pressure off the gorillas and their habitats, and where a donation from sales of every coffee bag goes to support community health, gorilla health and conservation programs at Bwindi, which are preventing disease transmission between people and gorillas.

Why get into coffee? Have you always been passionate about both gorillas and coffee?

I have always been passionate about mountain gorillas, since working with them as a veterinary student in 1994 where I conducted research on parasites in the gorillas and then later started the veterinary unit at the Uganda Wildlife Authority in 1996, where I led a team that investigated the first scabies skin disease outbreak in the gorillas that was traced to people living around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with limited access to basic health services. This led us to establish Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) to address the health needs of people and gorillas together. As part of CTPH’s alternative livelihoods program, we decided to help coffee farmers to enable them to also benefit from living close to the gorillas, as not all people can be directly employed in the tourism industry.

How is Gorilla Conservation Coffee helping to support coffee farmers?

We work with farmers from the Bwindi Coffee Growers Cooperative that we helped to create from Arabica coffee farmers found in subcounties bordering Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. By giving them a premium price of $0.5 per kilogram of green beans above the market price, we are helping to ensure a good price and steady market for their quality coffee, enabling them to double their income and bring them closer to livable income levels.

Tell us about your Coffee Safaris?

Our Coffee Safaris are closely linked to the gorilla tourism industry where after tracking the mountain gorillas, tourists can spend an extra day visiting smallholder coffee farmers where they can get to meet the farmers, and participate in harvesting red cherries from the trees, and see how they are processed with a hand pulper to parchment. Then they get to drink freshly prepared Gorilla Conservation Coffee while getting a presentation of how drinking this coffee is helping to save gorillas.

What is your vision for Gorilla Conservation Coffee?

My vision is for Gorilla Conservation Coffee to be able to train and buy coffee from as many farmers as possible in subcounties bordering Bwindi, and later scale up to other protected areas were gorillas are found to bring similar benefits.

What has been the highlight of your journey with Gorilla Conservation Coffee, or your favourite moments?

The highlight of my journey has been discovering that Gorilla Conservation Coffee from the Bwindi farmers is actually of a very high quality and people really like drinking it because this is the first step to making sure that it will save gorillas one sip at a time. Gorilla Conservation Coffee was among the top 30 coffees that were cupped by Coffee Review in USA in 2018,  https://www.coffeereview.com/review/kanyonyi-coffee-blend/  When people visit our Gorilla Conservation Café in Entebbe, it is encouraging to hear them say that the coffee tastes very good and they are happy to be supporting the Bwindi coffee farmers and gorillas. It is also nice that the coffee farmers appreciate that we are helping them to improve on their coffee quality and yield and giving them a steady market for their coffee.

Are there any special or unique challenges you’ve encountered or overcome?

We have encountered challenges of running out of working capital because the demand for Gorilla Conservation coffee has exceeded the supply. This has also resulted in farmers who we trained in sustainable agricultural practices selling coffee to others because we are not able to buy all their coffee, yet we need it to satisfy the demand for the coffee.  Another unique challenge is differentiating Gorilla Conservation Coffee from other coffees that are branded with gorillas, but don’t have the same unique selling proposition.

What does your average day look like?

I don’t have a typical day, I work most of the time, but try to get time off to relax and be with my family. When I am in the field working with gorillas and other wildlife, I tend to start the day earlier, than when I have meetings, reports and proposals to write. I also travel to raise awareness and funds to support our work.

You established Conservation Through Public Health and Gorilla Conservation Coffee, and have achieved so much – what keeps you motivated through it all?

I remain motivated when I see how the local communities’ attitudes and lives are improving as a result of our programs, and how this is contributing to an increase in the mountain gorilla population. In November 2018, the mountain gorilla population was moved from critically endangered to endangered because of this positive trend.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about Uganda, and specifically Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?

Uganda has some of the most amazing wildlife, as well as a culture of hospitality, and is most famous for coffee and gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park also has one of the most interesting and successful models of engaging the local communities in ecotourism and conservation.

What’s next? What are you most looking forward to over the next few months and years?

We are looking forward to greatly increasing the impact of Gorilla Conservation Coffee by increasing the number of coffee farmers we are working with at Bwindi, having tested the model with the first 75 farmers. This also means greatly increasing the customers in Uganda and internationally especially in the countries where we have trademarks for Gorilla Conservation Coffee. We also want to strengthen the mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating how our impact enterprise is enabling the farmers’ income to increase, and conservation practices to improve including planting shade trees and reducing their dependence on the gorillas’ habitat for food and fuel wood.