By Jonathan Kamoga
Uganda recorded a sharp drop in coffee exports last year, losing over $100 million.
Officials are blaming the drop on adverse weather. Coffee exports dropped from 4.76 million bags in 2017 to 4.1 million bags in 2018, jeopardising an ambitious plan to increase production to at least 20 million bags in seven years.
The government says it is seeking Ush200 billion ($52 million) to counter the effects of drought through irrigation.
According to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, exports for March 2018 to February 2019 fetched $423 million, 13.95 per cent lower than the previous year’s $542 million.
“We now have come up with a few interventions to counter the unpredictable dry season and these have got the nod from the president; the first one will be setting up mass irrigation for small, medium and large scale farmers,” said Agriculture Minister Vincent Ssempijja.
The interventions, he says, will lay the foundation for the country’s target of 20 million bags by 2022. The most realistic target, however, is in the Uganda National Coffee Strategy Plan for 2015-2020, at 5.8 million bags by 2020.
According to the country’s current coffee strategy document, a target of 12 million bags with a potential return of $2.5 billion by 2040 will be achieved by enhancing access to extension services, agricultural inputs, marketing services, and other appropriate technologies in coffee farming by smallholder farmers, processers and middle-men.
Official estimates put the number of Ugandan coffee farmers at over 1.7 million, looking after about 900 million coffee trees.
While the country’s production has for decades relied on small-holder farming, Ugandan elites are joining the industry with five to 20-acre farms.
Mr Ssempijja said the government hopes that its Operation Wealth Creation programme, which distributed three million seedlings, will increase production.
The dwindling coffee exports have also been partly blamed on the ongoing political chaos in Sudan, Uganda’s largest market on the continent.
Coffee exports to Sudan have dropped since December last year when citizens started mass protests against President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade rule.
Sudan accounts for up to 17 percent of Uganda’s coffee exports annually, second to Europe.