Known as a robusta powerhouse, Uganda is working towards producing some excellent Arabica.
For many, Uganda might not the first country that comes to mind when thinking of high quality Arabica: the country has been traditionally known as a producer of Robusta – in fact, some of the highest quality robusta available on the market – and is reputed to even be its birthplace. However, in many regions of the country the challenges to quality Arabica production are certainly more a matter of infrastructure, history and knowledge than environment.View Coffees
Place In World For Coffee Exporter7th
Sacks (60kg) exported annuallyApprox: 4,526,000
Percentage of world coffee market3.4%
Other major agricultural exportsSugar, Maize, Tobacco
Estimated number of families relying on coffee for livelihood?500,000
Typical varieties producedKent, Typica, SL-14 & SL-28
Key coffee regionsBugisu (Mt. Elgon), Lake Victoria basin, Western Uganda, West Nile
Typical harvest timesOctober– February: Main crop; April–August: Fly crop
Typically availableFrom late March/early April
The Potential for High Quality Coffee
The slopes of Mt. Elgon in the eastern reaches of the country (bordering Kenya) and on the slopes of the Mount Rwenzori, known locally as the ‘mountains of the moon’, in the Northwest bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, maintain microclimates and terrains that are ideal for the production of high-quality coffee.
Make no mistake, quality coffee in the country is on the rise. Uganda has been an innovator in the concept of fine robusta, but the country has also put effort and resources towards developing Arabica production. Currently, coffee accounts for 9% of the country’s exports. Following liberalisation of the coffee industry in the early 1990s, the industry has left behind the days of state control and is currently 100% in private hands. All coffee exports remain regulated by a state body, however: the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) grades, cups and classifies all export shipments, providing a standardised system for export quality control, which helps greatly for those questing for higher quality.
Currently, the UCDA reports an average yield of around 10 bags per hectare. This means a great deal of improvement can be made. The newly created National Coffee Research Institute (NACRI) – an independent research board – speaks to the growing awareness of coffee’s importance within the country. And exporting companies are also lending a hand to turn the industry around.
One great example of this is Kawacom – the driving force behind several of the country’s quality-driven projects and Mercanta’s exporting partner in Uganda. They began their first project with an impressive 5,000 smallholder coffee farmers with an average of 0.5 ha each under coffee. These farmers, all keen to participate in higher value markets, were trained in criteria for socially and environmentally responsible coffee growing practices and efficient farm management with the aim of certifying and marketing their coffee on the international scene. Today they have two wet mills and quality improvement projects – one in the Sipi Falls area and one in Northern Uganda’s West Nile area. Both projects have expanded significantly, and together reach over 18,000 smallholder farmers, many of whom not only receive higher prices for their higher quality coffee but also participate in other social and environmental programs and cash management project.
The vast majority of coffee in Uganda is home processed by smallholder farmers using hand-powered pulpers, yet many lack proper drying infrastructure. This means that attention to processing and resulting quality can vary greatly and is difficult to control under this more rustic processing system. Kawacom has been proactive in addressing this. During the harvest season, Kawacom encourages farmers to deliver cherry to their new, state-of-the-art wet mills instead of hand pulping on their farm. This has given their projects increased control over processing activities, which can be challenging in the region as rains during the harvest season are common.