Coffee Growing Regions
The Coffee Industry in Uganda
Coffee, as a commodity, has continued to play a leading role in the economy of Uganda, (contributing between 20 - 30% of the foreign exchange earnings), despite the vigorous efforts by Government to diversify the economy. Though large scale coffee producers are gradually emerging, the coffee sub-sector is almost entirely dependent on about 500,000 smallholder farmers, 90 percent of whose average farm size ranges from less than 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The coffee industry employs over 3.5 million families through coffee related activities. The policy of the Uganda Government on coffee production since liberalization in 1991 had been (and still is) to gradually replace the old, diseased coffee trees with new, genetically pure and high yielding coffee varieties at a rate of 5% per annum for Robusta and 2% per annum for Arabica for 20 years. This was expected to replace all old, unproductive coffee trees and optimize foreign exchange earnings to the country and payments to farmers.
Coffee Varieties Grown in Uganda
Uganda receives rainfall ranging between 1,500 and 2,300 mm per year. Two types of coffee: Arabica and Robusta are grown in the ratio of 1: 4. Robusta Coffee is grown in the low altitude areas of Central, Eastern, Western and South Eastern Uganda up to 1,200 metres above sea level while Arabica coffee is grown in the highland areas on the slopes of Mount Elgon in the East and Mt. Rwenzori and Mt. Muhabura in the South Western Region (1500-2,300 m above sea level). Unlike Robusta whose native habitat is the Lake Victoria Crescent, Arabica coffee is an introduced crop originating from Ethiopia. Arabica coffee is more competitive on the international market because of its superior quality. Uganda Robusta too has intrinsic quality attributes which even attracts a premium on the international coffee market. On the other hand, the new Arabica variety, (Tuzza), commonly referred to as catimors perform well in low altitude areas of the country predominantly zoned for Robusta coffee, (1,200-1,500 m). At high altitude this variety succumbs to Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) and yields are poor. The origin of catimor arabica is Papua New Guinea and the variety is known for its high yielding capabilities, drought resistance and tolerance to diseases. Liquoring profiling is still going on in various medium altitude areas with the ultimate aim of releasing the variety in the near future by the Coffee Research Centre. UCDA is collaborating with the Centre and other stakeholders to implement this. The South Western region has produced a good quality cup of the Tuzza variety.
The Coffee Farming Systems
Uganda’s average farm holding sizes are in the range of 0.5 and 2.5 hectares. Coffee is mostly grown in mixed stand where it is intercropped with food crops such as bananas and beans which ensure households’ food security. It is also grown among shade trees that result into sustainable coffee production, (social, economic and environment), with minimal use of agro-chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides). Coffee farmers in Uganda use the low input system and households strongly rely on family labour.
Major Challenges to the Coffee Industry
- Low production and productivity levels:
Most of the coffee in Uganda was planted over 50 years ago and hence has surpassed its biological optimum potential and therefore not economically productive, (the economic life of a coffee tree is 40 calendar years); The old trees coupled with poorly managed and leached soils have led to very low yields per unit area, (low productivity) and hence lower quality. Under medium management level, the yield of Robusta and Arabica is 500 kg/ha and 750 kg/ha of clean and parchment coffee respectively; The low input system used by most farmers is less profitable especially during this era where there is scarcity of land as a result of the population pressure and consequently land fragmentation.
Secondly, farmers have not put to optimum use the land and labour available to them in order to make profits. Consequently, low volumes of coffee exports, (oscillating between 2 to 3 million 60 kg bags per year), have been realized over the years;
- Infection of Coffee by the Coffee Wilt Disease, (CWD):
Since 1993 the coffee industry has been attacked by CWD. The Coffee Wilt Disease has also been identified in all the Robusta coffee growing districts. It is estimated that 50 percent (slightly over 150 million trees) of the overall Robusta coffee tree population has been infected by the disease and died. The effect of the disease will therefore have a wider impact on the Ugandan population through declines in incomes and reduced capacity by farmers to earn and purchase essentials.
- Inadequate Management Capacity:
The coffee industry has got many new entrants, (e.g. Youth, women and farmers in new coffee areas), who have not yet grasped the concept of coffee husbandry and coffee nursery work. In addition, the capacity to contain the Coffee Wilt Disease is still limited.
- Volatile World Market Coffee Prices:
The unstable coffee prices on the world market have in the past discouraged coffee farmers from planting more coffee and also to abandon some of the good agricultural practices. However, in spite of low world prices, coffee production remains competitive especially for Uganda which is a low cost producer with low marginal cost of production, compared to other enterprises. It therefore pays for smallholders to remain in coffee production. A rise in farmgate prices in the last two years (2005, 2006 & 2007) has stimulated demand for coffee plantlets from farmers that is likely to result into higher productivity and increased farm incomes.
Recent initiatives in support of coffee replanting
The recent Government strategy has mainly been coffee replanting in Coffee Wilt Disease, (CWD) affected areas, replacement of the aged unproductive trees and supporting introduction of commercial coffee production in new areas of Northern, North Eastern Uganda and the districts of Kisoro and Kabale. Enhancement of coffee productivity at farm level is also being done in order to ensure improvement in coffee farmers’ household income. The Coffee Production campaign 2006-2015 spearheaded by UCDA and Café Africa is also geared at replacing the acreage lost due to diseases including CWD. In this respect, two stakeholders' meetings were held in June and September 2006 to address the declining coffee volumes. Four thematic areas being addressed in the campaign are: Research; Extension; Inputs and Credit and Farmer Organisations.