Uganda’s resident Coffee Expert, Roberts Mbabazi, shares with us some of his detailed knowledge about Uganda’s coffee and the coffee industry. Read on and you’ll be able to pass for an expert on Uganda’s favorite crop as well!
How much coffee does Uganda produce a year?
“Between 3 to 4 million (60kg) bags of coffee. 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). 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.
Where does it all go?
“98% of Ugandan coffee is exported with the major buyers being European Union countries. Sudan is the second biggest buyer. We also export to other countries like Ecuador, India, USA and Vietnam among others.”
How many people work in the coffee industry in Uganda?
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.”
What makes Uganda so ideal for coffee growing?
“By the mere fact that it’s located astride the Equator, and this alone comes with its benefits like abundant rainfall and abundant sunshine, some of the primary factors that affect coffee growing. Uganda receives rainfall ranging between 1,500 and 2,300 mm per year. Uganda is more temperate than surrounding areas due to its altitude. The country is mostly plateau with a rim of mountains. This has made it more suitable to agriculture and less prone to tropical diseases than other nations in the region.”
What types of coffee does Uganda produce?
“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 meters above sea level while Arabica coffee is grown in the highland areas on the slopes of Mount Elgon in the East and Mt. Ruwenzori 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 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.”
What is the process for processing coffee and where is it done?
“All Ugandan coffees are processed from here. The ripe coffee fruits (cherries) go through a number of operations aimed at extracting the beans from their covering of pulp, mucilage, parchment and film to improve their appearance. The resulting clean coffee (FAQ) can then be roasted and ground to obtain the coffee powder which if fit for human consumption. There are two main techniques used to obtain the clean coffee: wetting and drying processing. The process chosen depends of the variety of coffee.”
How does Ugandan coffee compare to the coffee from other countries?
“The fact that Uganda lies across the equator contributes to the high quality of our coffee and distinguishes it from coffee grown in other regions across Africa. It cannot be fair for me to compare our coffee to other regions in terms of production and marketing, but quality-wise, I can comfortably say that Ugandan coffees are raising eyebrows around the world with some major coffee companies in the USA like Green Mountain Coffee, which has introduced a blend of purely Ugandan Coffee called the Rwenzururu Blend. This blend was made as a way of paying respect to the Rwenzururu kingdom in western Uganda, Kasese district.”
What do you wish more people knew about Ugandan coffee?
“I wish people, especially Ugandans, were interested in learning more about coffee because it is a product that contributes significantly to the economy. I wish to dispel many of the myths about coffee that have been passed on for generations and inspire people to indulge in the trade and habit of drinking it. It has both health and economic benefits which should be communicated to increase the percentage of Ugandan coffee consumers.
Buyers of Ugandan coffee already know the rare unique qualities of Ugandan coffee, like the intriguing sundried tomato flavors, dried vanilla aromas and floral notes you experience when you taste some of the best washed Arabicas from Eastern Uganda, the natural raw molasses, nutty and creamy mouth feel you feel when you taste some of our best natural Robustas. We need to share this information and inform consumers so that they appreciate and yearn for more of Ugandan coffee. I also wish that Uganda as a country would strengthen its position on the world coffee market. It can manage to do this through the continuous sensitization of farmers on good agronomic farm practices, welcoming potential investors so that our annual production of coffee increases, and continuing to promote the coffee to the local markets.”
How can more people get involved in learning more about coffee?
“A few coffee shops offer coffee tours. Places like 1000 Cups have tours where they take some of the interested clients to different farms around the country. Café Pap has recently started taking some people on coffee tours as well. I believe with time, other companies will join the movement. The bottom line of such tours is to give the consumers a feel of what happens to coffee all the way from the farm to the cup, before they enjoy their coffees as Espresso or Lattes.”