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Uganda registers increase in coffee exports despite COVID-19

Uganda registered an increase in coffee exports in March 2020, despite an overall contraction in international trade as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a report from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) indicates.

Earlier this week, UCDA reported that coffee exports in March 2020 amounted to 477,561 60-kilogram bags worth $45.87M (Shs 171bn). Of these, 385,978 bags ($33.09M) comprised of Robusta coffee and 91,583 bags ($12.78M) of Arabica.

According to Dr. Emmanuel Iyamulemye-the Managing Director, UCDA, these export figures represent a y-o-y increase of 38.39% and 35.72% in quantity and value respectively, compared to March 2019. 

Iyamulemye says the fact that Uganda’s coffee exports have remained stable despite the declining global economy over the Coronavirus pandemic is an indication that Ugandan coffee is of good quality.

UCDA is a statutory body established to facilitate increase in quality coffee production, productivity, and consumption.

General Manager, Mr. John Nuwagaba has revealed that the recent boost in Uganda’s coffee export volumes is a result of increased farmer sensitisation.

In a telephone interview with theCooperator, John Nuwagaba, the General Manager of the Ankole Coffee Producers’ Cooperative Union (ACPCU), the leading producing coffee union in Ankole region, attributed the increased coffee revenue to increased production of the beverage in Uganda.

“The increased in revenue is due to increased export volume because for the last two years, the price of coffee has been falling in [major coffee markets like] London and New York. For instance, the London price has fallen from USD 1,800 per tonne two years ago, to about 1,190 USD per tonne today. This means that although market is low, as a country we have performed better on coffee exportation,” Nuwagaba explained.

“There has been a lot of coffee replanting over the past few years, and now we are beginning to see the results with an increase in coffee export volumes,” he added.

However, Nuwagaba cautioned Ugandans against getting prematurely excited, explaining that the performance reflects activity from before the COVID-19 related lockdown.

“Coffee export is a process, part of which started even before the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that COVID-19 could still, to some extent, hamper the coffee exportation business because of limited movements,” he emphasised.

Dried Ugandan coffee stacked up and ready for export. Internet photo

Nuwagaba added that by the time the pandemic struck, the coffee season in the central region had been concluded.

“Let us wait and see if it [pandemic] will affect the main coffee season that is starting in the Western region,” Nuwagaba said.

More factors behind coffee revenue growth

The General Manager also pointed out a number of factors which, he says, may account for Uganda improved coffee export performance. 

Most important, in his view, is the streamlined mobilization of farmers with regard to the coffee exportation business and education on how to access the international market.

“UCDA has been encouraging us to attend exhibitions in Europe, USA and the African Fine Coffees Conference and Exhibition where education is provided on how to produce quality coffee that is competitive on the international market,” Nuwagaba said.

He also lauded UCDA’s improved management and documentation of exportation documents has speeded up the coffee exportation process.

 “The single window system now in use cuts down on the bureaucracies in document processing to quicken the export process.”

Other factors cited for the stellar export performances include improved infrastructure in coffee-growing areas, better marketing strategies, depreciation of the shilling and the favourable weather Uganda has enjoyed since 2019.

Farmers to benefit

Nuwagaba said that both the union and farmers stand to benefit from the boost in export coffee revenue.

He therefore appealed farmers to practice good agronomic practices that produce quality coffee that can compete on the international market.

“We have been training our farmers to emphasise good agronomic practices. Good coffee is not only about the bean size; it is mainly about what they find in the cup. Only pick red cherries, dry them properly, and keep them clean,” Nuwagaba advised farmers.

He also advised farmers to join the nearby cooperatives so that they can increase bulk marketing.

Ankole coffee producers’ cooperative union contributes almost 2.2% of the coffee to the national’s coffee export market with a current turnover of 26billion.

Annually, Uganda’s average coffee earnings top USD 450m, making it one of the country’s top foreign exchange-earners. Uganda is also the leading exporter of coffee on the continent. 

The major destinations of Uganda’s coffee exports during March 2020 were Italy, Sudan, Germany and Spain.


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