Farming

At last, a policy to guide coffee sector

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Coffee farmers will be supervised to ensure good quality coffee production according to the recently launched National Coffee Policy. PHOTO BY MICHAEL J SSALI  

By Michael J Ssali

Posted  Wednesday, December 18  2013 at  13:02

In Summary

Officially, Uganda now has a national coffee policy, following approval by Cabinet. Under this, the guidelines, regulations and strategy for the sector are laid out.

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Uganda now has a National Coffee Policy. It was launched on December 6 during a ceremony at Kituuza National Coffee Research Institute in Mukono District.

State Minister for Agriculture, Prof Zerubabel Nyira, presided over the function, which attracted local government leaders, diplomats, Members of Parliament, traders, processors, representatives of coffee farmers’ organisations, donor agencies, and other stakeholders.

The demand for a national policy was officially made during a coffee farmers’ assembly organised by the National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe) held in 2008 in Kampala.

It has taken four years to prepare and it has come about at the time when there is widespread recognition that its long absence has substantially contributed to the stagnation in the cash crop’s production.

Importance
While Uganda was the leading producer of coffee in Africa at independence, in 1962, today it is second to Ethiopia. Yet this is the most important commercial agricultural crop in the country given that it accounts for 20 per cent of the total export revenue. And it offers direct and indirect employment to an estimated six million people.

Another observation is that by 1980, Vietnam produced no coffee, today it is said to be second to Brazil and is the world’s top producer of Robusta coffee. We are facing stiffer competition in the market as more producers including India have come on board and so we must reorganise ourselves.
An MP, who is also the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and a coffee farmer, Mathias Kasamba, remarked during the launch, “Whereas independent Uganda exported 2,158,736 million bags of 60kgs in 1964/1965, in 2012, Uganda still exported a mere 2.9 million 60 kg bags.”

Since 1.3 million households depend on coffee for income, according to the 2008 Agriculture Census carried out by Uganda Bureau of Statistics, stagnation of production in that period meant stagnation in household incomes.
Many factors are known to have contributed towards this sad position. They include the incurable coffee wilt disease (CWD), which has destroyed an estimated 200 million trees of Robusta coffee. Due to climate change, the country has experienced more incidents of drought, which have led to huge production deficits.

The population has grown rapidly, which has greater pressure on land usage in the struggle to grow food. The soil has been degraded as a result, yet farming, and in particular, coffee growing, is not attractive to youths who abandon rural areas and flock to towns taking their youthful energy into other often futile urban economic activities.
Our government has not given sufficient budgetary allocation to agriculture and research; this has not helped the pest and disease control efforts in the coffee sector.

The promise
There have been no strong laws governing production and to ensure good quality to make it more attractive on the export market and to attract high prices, which would motivate farmers.
The National Coffee Policy will guide and regulate coffee production, beginning with the farmer through the entire value chain.

This is exactly what Henry Ngabirano, director, Uganda Coffee Development Authority, promised in his speech at Kituuza.
He said, “The key aim of the policy is to lay a strong foundation for long-term competitiveness that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable and also ensure that Uganda’s coffee flourishes throughout the world. It will guide and regulate activities of various stakeholders in the coffee industry so as to improve on production, processing, marketing and roasting of coffee.”

We expect to see law enforcement officers going out into the rural areas to inspect the way farmers harvest the crop and how they dry it to ensure quality to attract higher prices from the international buyers.

Way forward
In the past, around independence, nearly all farmers observed hygienic post-harvest regulations of the crop but the spirit of this dropped with the collapse of cooperative unions in the later years.

Our current national aim is to produce 4.5 million bags annually by 2015 and, as MP Kasamba announced at the launch, the government has kick-started the process by providing 100 million coffee seedlings to rural farmers. About 100 MPs have joined in the initiative to promote the crop and the northern part of Uganda has come on board having been discovered to have the potential for producing Robusta coffee.

There is increased mobilisation of the coffee farmers to form associations and cooperatives at parish level, sub-county and district levels so as to strengthen their capacities.

Indeed, it was a farmers’ organisation, Nucafe, that demanded formulation of a national policy in 2008. Vice chairman, Cyprian Bangirana, has called upon the government to speed up the formation of a financial institution, which is friendly to the coffee farmer whose crop takes years to earn profit.

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