Uganda should add its coffee on the list of tourist attractions
Posted Wednesday, February 27 2013 at 00:00
Uganda is among the world’s leading coffee producers and is also one of the most popular tourist destinations, though our coffee is not a top tourist attraction. Yet in Colombia and other coffee producing countries in Latin America, coffee tourism is big business.
In those countries, there is a proliferation of coffee tours, coffee bars, coffee theme parks, coffee festivals, coffee gardens, coffee museums, and coffee farm stays scattered all over different coffee growing regions.
An experience to remember
These attract tourists from different parts of the world every year, to “discover” the source of their favourite drink – coffee.
These are people who have never seen a coffee plant, and will spend money to visit a farm and even join in the picking. It is an experience they will carry back home and recall each time they take a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, Uganda has not invested in this kind of tourism.
Without wasting time blaming past, present and even future leaders for the missed opportunity, farmers must do everything possible to redeem the situation. There are a few things we can do within our means.
One is to take up the task of promoting coffee as a tourist attraction, ourselves. To become competent tour guides, however, we need to know more about the crop, besides the agronomic practices. We need to have on our finger tips, the political, social, cultural as well as economic history of coffee in this country. The tourists will expect us to know all this, and we just cannot disappoint them.
We should be able to tell them how coffee acquired the notorious name kiboko (whip) and demonstrate how smugglers used to pack coffee in coffins and cover it with rotting offals or fish to evade Amin’s dreaded anti-coffee smuggling unit, headed by the notorious Bob Astles.
These tourists would want to hear about the powerful mwanyi zabala (coffee boom) motorbike that used to cause a “minor earth tremor” wherever it passed, and the time when the army chief of staff used to bank coffee revenues on his personal bank account in London.
We also need to be conversant with the contribution the crop makes to our rich and diverse cultures. For instance, in Buganda, roasted beans are served to in-laws as a special snack during introduction ceremonies. The beans are also used in cultural functions such as initiating new born twins into the family and making blood bonds (okutta omukago).
Besides this, we also need to aggressively cultivate a coffee-drinking culture. True! Uganda is generally a tea-taking nation. Even the head of state invites people to State House for a cup of tea—not coffee. We have to change this culture.
And the first target should be the farmer. How many cups of coffee do you as a coffee farmer take in a day? Do you serve coffee to your visitors? Do you pack coffee for your children for school? When out at a restaurant, do you insist on being served real coffee, not some synthetic stuff conjured out of soy flour?
After making your lifestyle “coffee compatible”, the next target should be the youth; the dot.com generation. This is an important group because they are many and are willing to experiment. To ensure they do not experiment with more deadly stuff, we need to ensure there is quality but affordable coffee at all those joints where they “chill”.
These include internet cafes, movie theatres, shopping malls and even school canteens. Another group to take seriously are people whose faith bars them from alcohol and allows them to take coffee. Finally, we need to invest resources in creating and promoting local brands.
Boost local consumption
Foreign brands have captured our market because we export the best and leave the worst for home consumption.
Recently, Uganda hosted the 10th Fine Coffees Conference and Exhibition. It was an eye opener. The exhibition was dominated by coffee processors from Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Cameroon. There were just a few Ugandan exhibitors. Meanwhile the general public, including coffee farmers, did not seem to be aware of the continental conference taking place in their midst.