The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the coffee value chain affecting farmers, processors, exporters, baristas, roasters, coffee shops and beyond. Dr. Emmanuel Iyamulemye, Managing Director of Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), talks about the impact COVID-19 has had on the coffee sub-sector.

What is Uganda Coffee Development Authority’s mandate?

UCDA is a statutory organization that was set up by an act of Parliament in 1991 with the mandate to oversee the coffee industry by supporting research, controlling quality, promoting the marketing of coffee.

How has COVID-19 impacted the coffee industry in Uganda?

We have mixed results in Uganda. In the months of March to June, we saw a rise in exports. For the first time, we had the highest exports since 1991 when Uganda liberalised the economy.

At the same time, between March and April, we had an unprecedented increase in prices because most of the roasters abroad were rushing to buy as much coffee as possible to stock in their coffee houses. And of course Ugandan coffee was on high demand because it is highly competitive, of good quality and a little bit cheaper than some of the branded coffees on the market.

In the months of July to September, Uganda registered an unprecedented increase in monthly coffee exports surpassing the 500,000 60 kg bags in a single month for the first time in 3 decades.

In July, Uganda exported 543,251 60-kg bags of coffee valued at US$ 49.78 million. In August, we exported a total of 519,683 60-kg bags of coffee valued at US$ 46.06 million and a total of 506,470 60 kg bags of coffee valued at US$ 44.64 million were exported in September 2020.

Overall Coffee exports for the coffee year (October 2019 to September 2020) totaled 5,360,859 bags worth US512.23 million compared to 4,439,808 bags worth US$ 433.95 million the previous year. This represents a 21% and 18% increase in quantity and value respectively.

What challenges have you faced?

At the local level, we had several challenges. We were in the production season and because of the restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus, farmers struggled to harvest coffee and transport it to processing factories. In addition, the limitations on meetings and requirements for social distancing made it difficult for our staff to provide extension services.

On the export side, we had a challenge of few containers to load coffee in. This was because cargo trucks were being delayed at the borders as drivers were being tested for COVID-19. Despite these challenges though, volumes continued moving as exporters kept their coffee at their facilities.

Unfortunately, exporters and processors who didn’t have these facilities were negatively impacted. The coffee sector was one of the sectors that the Government was looking at to help the economy grow. Government did everything possible to facilitate the movement of coffee within and out of the country. Therefore, the industry thrived during the period. Even after the lockdown, we see the numbers have continued to grow.

Coffee is a national strategic crop for Uganda. Do you think Ugandans appreciate that coffee is critical to our economy?

It is a process. In the past, coffee was regarded as any other agricultural crop. However, from some of our historical moments, we realise coffee earnings were a transformation for the country.

Part of UCDA’s mandate is to ensure that Ugandans appreciate the importance of coffee. We are now taking the message to the youth. We have coffee clubs in universities where we train the students in coffee production, roasting, and brewing. We have also been holding district coffee shows which bring together stakeholders from the private and public sector to appreciate how coffee is produced.

In all this, we have seen Ugandans appreciation for coffee rising with each year. Today we have individuals who have invested in large commercial farms because they now understand the value of coffee as a business.

Tell us about the coffee roadmap that the government developed and how is UCDA working with farmers to achieve this aspiration?

Uganda is the 8th largest coffee producer in the world. Our desire is to get to the second or third position where we were a few years ago, and that is why the Government launched the coffee roadmap.

The roadmap responds to a directive issued by H. E. the President of Uganda in 2014, to accelerate coffee production from the then 3.5 million 60kg bags to 20 million bags of green coffee by the year 2025.

The coffee roadmap is an ambitious transformative agenda to increase the production of coffee but importantly increase the payment of the farmers. We are implementing the roadmap through various activities and we are working with farmers and other stakeholders to transform small farms into commercial ones by promoting improved productivity on-farm and agro-industrialisation.

Post-harvest handling in the agricultural sector is one of the biggest challenges. We talk about producing coffee for the global market but the manner and the way in which we do the post-harvest handling is not standardised. What is UCDA doing about this?

We need to take coffee as food, whether we are exporting or processing it for domestic consumption. If we want to protect our markets, and attract good prices, we have to make sure that we have very good coffee.

We are sensitising farmers, exporters, traders and everybody involved in the coffee value chain so that we produce a lot of coffee, handle it very well and ultimately export good quality coffee and attract good prices.

Two million households in Uganda depend on coffee for earnings but few engage in its domestic consumption. What can UCDA do to increase the consumption of coffee?

Drinking coffee is about culture. My first interaction with coffee was in high school. When we were growing up, we were growing kiboko for export. But the actual drinking was in secondary school to keep ourselves awake and warm. We never knew that coffee has health benefits.

At UCDA, we are engaging different stakeholders to help increase local consumption of coffee. We want people to start appreciating the benefits a cup of coffee offers. And this is what transformed the coffee drinking culture in other countries like Japan and that is also what we are seeing in China.

Where do you see UCDA in the next five years?

In the next five years, we want to see coffee exports reaching 20 million bags. We want to phase out the distribution of seedlings and focus on productivity per tree. We also want to see Ugandans appreciating a cup of coffee and the consumption moving from the current 6 percent per capita to 15 percent. It is our dream as UCDA to see Ugandans walking on the streets and in villages feeling proud to be involved in the coffee value chain.