The Corus Effect: How Mountain Harvest transforms lives through coffee

Mwenyi Judith sorts coffee at a Mountain Harvest drying facility in Bufuma, Uganda. (Photo: Jjumba Martin/Mountain Harvest)

The Corus Effect: How Mountain Harvest transforms lives through coffee

  • Robin Schmid
  • Dec 4, 2023

High on the slopes of Uganda’s mountains, local coffee enterprise Mountain Harvest is working side-by-side with farmers to produce high-quality Arabica coffee – coffee that fuels a higher quality of life for farmers and their families. Mountain Harvest is driven by the belief that what tastes best in your cup can and should be sustainable for the environment and provide a living income for producers. 

A farmer holds a bucket of coffee cherries

Kisiro Patrick, a coffee farmer in Mayiyi, Uganda, carries a basin full of coffee cherries from his farm. (Photo: Jjumba Martin/Mountain Harvest)

Mountain Harvest was established with impact investing funds from Ground Up Investing. Ground Up Investing is Corus International's impact investing arm that makes equity investments in high potential, early-stage companies and provides them with technical assistance to grow their business, increase farmers’ incomes and strengthen local economies. As a part of Corus International, Ground Up Investing is linked to an array of nonprofit organizations and businesses, each with specialized expertise — from health to technology to economic development to emergency response. In addition to Ground Up Investing, Corus features global public health leader IMA World Health, international development and aid organization Lutheran World Relief, and technology for development consultancy CGA Technologies.

The story of Mountain Harvest is a testament to the power of the Corus partnership to bring together multi-dimensional, holistic solutions needed to achieve lasting change.

A woman sorts coffee cherries

Kusolo Robinah, a coffee farmer and employee at the cooperative buying center, sorts coffee in Bufuma, Uganda. (Photo: Jjumba Martin/Mountain Harvest)

The Corus Effect

In 2017, Lutheran World Relief launched Ground Up Investing to grow cooperatives it had been supporting through grant-based agricultural development programming into thriving mission-driven social enterprises. As these enterprises become profitable and reinvest in themselves and their communities, they strengthen member farmers’ positions in international markets and create economic and environmental benefits that radiate beyond their business.

A warehouse filled with sacks of coffee that are ready for export

A Mountain Harvest warehouse. (Photo: Jjumba Martin/Mountain Harvest)

Ground Up Investing’s first investment financed Mountain Harvest, a buyer and trader of premium Arabica coffee grown on Mt. Elgon in Uganda. By leveraging Lutheran World Relief's expertise in rural markets and sustainable agriculture, Mountain Harvest collaborates with approximately 1,000 smallholder coffee farmers to enhance the quality and value of their coffee through improved processing and increased farm productivity. Additionally, Mountain Harvest introduces new crops and products such as Hass avocados and macadamia, which provide shade for coffee trees, as well as honey that promotes biodiversity within the community. This holistic approach not only promotes food security and introduces new sources of income but also creates incentives for and benefits from sustainable environmental practices. 

A family of 4 showcases coffee cherries that they have collected

Coffee is a family business for Kayanga Rose, her husband Fungo Francis, and their children Flavia and Abraham in Bulambuli District, Uganda. (Photo: Jake Lyell for Corus)

To further streamline business operations and decision-making, CGA Technologies developed a management information system (MIS) that Mountain Harvest uses to analyze their data, adjust in real-time, and plan future investments for expansion. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, IMA World Health lent their public health expertise to ensure Mountain Harvest farmers and staff were supplied with the information and equipment to protect themselves and to model health precautions, such as mask wearing and frequent handwashing, for their surrounding community.

Taken together, these activities helped boost income and resilience for farmers and their communities, even in the face of a health crisis. Over the past six years, Mountain Harvest has set up 18 farmer training centers and secured organic certification for 1,000 farmers. The average price paid to farmers per metric ton of green coffee has increased from $2,967 in 2018 to $5,393 in 2023. The quality of smallholder-grown coffee has increased alongside a rise in export prices of 80 percent, further supporting farmer incomes. Mountain Harvest is also changing traditional gender roles and norms. Women’s involvement in coffee production has become critical to all aspects of Mountain Harvest’s operations.

A woman pours coffee cherries into a sack that a man is holding steady for her

Nakyima Beth fills a sack with coffee cherries with her husband Kisiro Patrick in Mayiyi, Uganda. (Photo: Jjumba Martin/Mountain Harvest)

Mountain Harvest has evolved into a green coffee exporter, producer and inclusive provider of farmer services that is dedicated to consistent and innovative specialty coffee. It actively fosters direct relationships between conscious buyers and communities, aiming to enhance trade terms while promoting the resilience of farmers and farmland through regenerative agriculture and sustainable business practices.

Farmers on Mt. Elgon are now able to better provide for their families, invest in their crops and land, and solidly step out of the cycle of poverty.