Coffee has continued to be Uganda’s top export crop. In the 1980s, coffee farmers planted about 191,700 hectares of Robusta coffee and 33,000 hectares of Arabic coffee. Most of Arabic coffee was grown in south-western and south-eastern Uganda while Robusta coffee was planted in central and western Uganda. This persisted for the entire decade.
Later alone between 1984 and 1986, a coffee rehabilitation program launched. This was meant to improve coffee productivity in the country. The program also supported specific activities including training programs, extension work, research and coffee farmer skills and understanding of their role in the economy. Factories were also rehabilitated during the implementation of the program. During the second phase of the coffee rehabilitation program, prices paid to farmers were increased. In May 1986 and February 1987, a kilogram of dried but un-hulled Robusta coffee increased from 24 to 29 shillings while for Arabic rose from 44.4 to 53.7 shillings (Wikipedia).
In 1991, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) was established with a mandate to oversee the coffee subsector. The authority is assigned to promote and oversee development of the coffee industry in the country. It implements this by promoting production, controlling quality and improving the marketing of coffee research. For the last 25 years since the establishment of UCDA, tremendous developments have happened in the coffee subsector. Levels of coffee production have increased and yes of course the quality of Ugandan coffee has greatly improved.
Amidst tight challenges like climate change and its related vagaries, Uganda currently harvests 4 million bags of coffee from 3.7 million bags in 2014. With this increment, there is hope that Uganda will by 2020 produce 20 million bags as stated in the vison 2020 and this will only happen if the government’s efforts to boost coffee production are doubled. This will generate more employment opportunities along the coffee value chain. In the recent concluded African peer review mechanism, president Museveni echoed the coffee problem. “The coffee bean from Uganda has been exported to United Kingdom at 1 USD per kilogram for the last 100 years. The price of the coffee bean has recently moved to 3 USD per kilogram in the international market. Yet, when this coffee is processed in the United Kingdom, it is resold to us at 15 USD. This means that we have donating 14 dollars per kilogram to United Kingdom. In addition, we are creating jobs in their country for their people in the coffee processing chain”.
More employment opportunities for Uganda’s burgeoning youth would be created along the coffee value chain if the country focused more on adding value and enhancing local coffee consumption among our populace. When I was growing up, I always heard of Kagogo coffee factory in Rukungiri but to my surprise it was abandoned long time ago. This factory employed approximately one thousand people and since its collapse, all these jobs were lost. What happened to the families of the employees of this once famous factory? The story must be different and not appeasing. I believe many coffee joints/ cafes would be in Rukungiri town if the factory was still operating and people would be employed in those cafes. The same would be happening in Mbale or Kasese. During the 2015/2016 financial year, an estimate of 236,400 coffee bags was locally consumed compared to 229,200 bags in 2014/2015 financial year. With the current coffee production standing at 4 million bags, this means that 3,534,400 bags were exported during the financial years. These are quite a number of jobs exported! This is greatly attributed to inadequate capacity to add value to the coffee bean.
The government of Uganda through her sister agency Uganda Coffee Development Authority should get back on drawing board and put in place robust strategies that will halt exporting jobs. Perhaps until then, Kagogo will rise again and serve the people of Rukungiri and beyond.
Brian K Katabazi is a Research Associate on Youth Livelihoods at a Kampala based Think and Do tank-Agency for Transformation