Wednesday February 14 2018

Uganda seeks to put coffee on global shelves

A barristar prepares coffee. Coffee roasters,

A barristar prepares coffee. Coffee roasters, traders, producers, professionals and connoisseurs from around the world are assembling in Kampala this week for the African Fine Coffee Conference and Exhibition. FILE PHOTO 

By Dorothy Nakaweesi

Briefly tell us about AFCA.
It is a private sector association that brings together different coffee stakeholders in Africa. It started in 2000 as an East African association but about five years ago, it graduated to a continental association because of a lot of interest from other African countries.
Currently, we have 12 members including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi and Burundi, among others. The association mainly promotes Africa fine coffee across the world with the aim of getting better prices for both farmers and other stakeholders.

What impact has African Fine Coffee Association had?
Our main focus is to make sure African coffee gets the value and price it deserves. We promote African coffee across the world as the best alternative for any coffee lover.
Over the years, our efforts have been rewarded with an increase in the value of our coffee. Previously, much of African coffee was being discounted. Now we get a lot of good premiums for our coffee. It has also been rallying points for our farmers where they are exposed to different coffee trends with experienced presenters explaining what is happening in the coffee world to farmers.

We also expose our farmers to recent technologies throughout the value chain which makes them understand the need to move with the times. We also make sure that traders, exporters and farmers are involved by inviting them to participate in different exhibitions organised across the world. This helps them to build important links, especially with rosters. That is how they understand the different levels of the global coffee market.

This year’s theme is: ‘Sustainable Coffee Industry for Social Economic Transformation.’ How did you arrive at it?
When you look at most of our farmers, they still have a very low economic viability. Therefore, we need to highlight this to see how the different governments within the association can improve farmers’ social and economic status. Lifting farmers’ potential to have sustainable income has been discussed at various fora including the World Coffee Producers Forum in Colombia in July last year. Since farmers are not getting the best out of their efforts in terms of sustainable income, it remains a concern to the sector which, as an association, we need to highlight.

It is believed that coffee originated from Africa apart from a few producing member countries. Uganda as the leading coffee producers have not sufficiently benefited. What is AFCA doing to change this?
By promoting these coffees and exposing our farmers to the rosters, it raises awareness which we believe is having returns, albeit with the recent increase in exports. For instance, Uganda has the best Robusta coffee and we are using this as a selling point to show the world that we have something better than others.

However, we have also been advising different governments to see that there is more domestic consumption of coffee. If this is achieved, we shall have stability in prices. For instance, Ethiopia is benefiting from a large local market and we believe this can be replicated in other member countries.

Africa produces the bulk of the world’s coffee but consumes very little of it. As African Fine Coffee Association, what are you doing to turn this around?
Our focus is to build a cluster by encouraging regional trade within Africa. We hope to benefit from new reforms at the African Union such as creating a Free Trade Area as well as the value addition strategy for global competitiveness. Through these strategies, we hope to promote the agenda of Africans drinking African coffee, which in turn, will create a huge consumption market. We have a big segment of consumers in the Magreb countries, Nigeria and some West African countries, which we think we can lobby through such initiatives to promote the rate of coffee consumption in Uganda.

Can you rate local consumption in terms of percentage right now?
Currently, it is only Ethiopia that has a sizable rate of local consumption, consuming about 50 per cent of its coffee. In Uganda, we consume about 3 per cent. But this has been increasing over time because of different promotions such as establishing barrister championships that are used to promote consumption.
Generally productions verses consumption, apart from Ethiopia, in most of the coffee producing countries is less than 5 per cent.

What are some of the emerging markets for African coffee?
We have seen growing demand for African coffees in many European countries, especially in Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries. We have done some capping sessions and the return has been impressive. Of course some of these markets we have been there but at a low scale. Our biggest focus now is China because of its large population that can potentially uplift our exports to more than 45 million bags. Other emerging markets include Japan, South Korea, and parts of the Middle East. However, even within Africa, there are some emerging markets such as South Africa and some parts of the Magreb.

What is the future of coffee farmers, exports and other players in the value chain?
Sometimes it is difficult to explain especially when it comes to farmers. One of the biggest challenge is the effect of climate change that greatly distorts production. As you might be aware, January is supposed to be a rainy season but if you moved out in the field, you would see how dry it is and its impact.

With support of government, there is need to have innovations, especially in simple irrigation methods to mitigate such losses that might be above the farmers’ capacity to handle. This should be supported by government through providing water for development and creating other development facilities which might also include establishing fertiliser plants and such others. At the other levels of the value chain, there is need for larger investments and better financing terms for people involved in the value chain, which helps entrepreneurs to invest in sustained value addition.

Where do you see Uganda’s coffee in the next 10 years?
The 2025 Roadmap headed by Prof Ezra Suruma, provides clear guidelines. I see more people coming back to invest in the coffee industry. Many corporate agencies and individuals have been consulting to participate in the coffee sector.