Local coffee exporter KDS now wants youth as industry game-changers

Some 10,000 youths will be trained in 10 districts, 70 percent of them females

Kampala Domestic Stores Limited (KDS), one of Uganda’s largest indigenous coffee exporters, said they want to skill youth within central Uganda and get them involved in the coffee value chain as a way of improving incomes and adding value to the country’s exports.

Uganda is Africa’s largest coffee exporter.

Peter Mugagga, KDS Project and Sustainability Manager said in an interview youth would be grouped together in 10 districts within the Buganda region, trained and then given support in getting into the coffee value chain – from growing the crop to exporting the finished product after processing.

“The aim is to have more young people getting into the coffee value chain so they have decent employment as well as adding value to Uganda’s coffee exports,” he said in an interview.

KDS will work in the 10 districts including Mpigi, Butambala, Masaka, Lwengo, Luweero and others. Their plan is to first get the Ugandan youth interested in farming and then telling them how profitable coffee can be as an entreprise.

“They will then choose at what segment of the coffee value chain they want to position themselves,” Mugagga said.

The campaign has as its implementing partners the Private Sector Foundation Uganda, Buganda Cultural and Development Foundation (BUCADEF) and Africa Coffee Academy (ACA).

It is partly funded by the Canada-based Mastercard Foundation and runs for three years until 2024.

Some 10,000 young people – with an emphasis on females, who are supposed to make up to 70 percent of the group – will be targeted. Each district will receive special attention, as a campaign to give them as much information as they need to decide, will be undertaken.

“We will be in those districts to tell them how profitable the crop is. There are many economic opportunities for young people in the coffee value chain and we want them involved at all stages,” Mugagga told theCooperator.

Uganda has enormous opportunities to grow its coffee exports and earn badly-needed foreign exchange income, economists say. Production has been growing from around four million bags of 60-kgs each – the long-term average – to almost seven million bags now.

Government says they want to expand this to at least 20 million bags a year, although recent moves to withdraw from the regulating International Coffee Organisation [ICO] have cast a shadow on the industry.

Very little of Uganda’s coffee is consumed locally. Ethiopia grows more but has a large domestic market.

Adding value to this coffee is one of the ways to improve revenues from the crop – which has been grown commercially in the country’s temperate zones since the 1920’s.

Yields have been rising in recent years, especially after the government of President Yoweri Museveni began to promote the replacement of old coffee bushes with a newer, better variety — the clonal robusta.

Clonal coffee – which matures faster than traditional varieties — gives higher yields and is resistant to coffee berry disease [CBD], the plague of Ugandan coffee. It was developed at the Kawanda Agricultural Research Station outside Kampala during the dark days of dictator Idi Amin but was abandoned owing to the turmoil.

Experts say it has the potential to jumpstart the country’s production especially after initial concerns about its inability to resist drought were promptly addressed.

Researchers have recently improved Uganda’s clonal coffee to give it a tap root after it was found that the old fibrous system did not go far enough into the ground to locate water during the dry season.

More research is going on, experts said.

KDS is one of Uganda’s top 10 coffee exporters and stands out as an indigenous firm among the mostly foreign buyers.

Mugagga said they considered it their duty to make use of available potential and expand acreage under coffee, besides improving the export value by processing the beans – compared to the present situation where mostly dry cherries are packed into bags and exported to Europe and elsewhere by ship through Mombasa.

Most of Uganda’s coffee is grown on small farms of under four acres each. A few modern indigenous ones have cropped up recently with plans to establish large scale plantations like is done in other countries such as Vietnam, Brazil and other global market leaders.

The country also produces Arabica, the higher-value type that thrives mostly in the volcanic mountainous soils of Bugisu and south-western Uganda and which is used mostly for blending robusta coffee types.

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