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Empire of coffee: A bean that conquered the world

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Mr Fred Kawuma with a copy of his book titled Is There Poverty in Your Cup of Coffee? A Profile of the Global Coffee Value Chain? PHOTO/STEPHEN OTAGE

Poverty is the inability to make enough money to escape deprivation. In Uganda, when it comes to coffee, poverty is subtle as it shapes a near-inextricable link between coffee producers and their inability to facilitate efficient and profitable transactions within the coffee industry. 

Frederick SM Kawuma’s new book, Is There Poverty in Your Cup of Coffee? A Profile of the Global Coffee Value Chain, highlights this reality and thereby strikes up “a conversation that we need to have where we think about how much we pay for coffee and how to improve the circumstances in which coffee producers toil and live to deliver this wonderful beverage.” 

Accordingly, this book ensures that the poverty in your cup of coffee is discernible while asking you and the respective stakeholders in the coffee industry what is being done to reduce this poverty for coffee producers. 

Complex market
There is no quick and painless answer to this question without coffee stakeholders admitting that they operate in a complex and dynamic market whose many vagaries, such as changing consumer preferences, have not been sufficiently balanced to facilitate a more prosperous coffee industry.
Relatedly, this book is centred on the livelihoods of people engaged in the production of the coffee that we consume, what their conditions are and whether producers receive a fair reward for their efforts. This focus is born of the consideration that it is critical that we consume coffee to effectively contribute to putting money in the pockets of various people in the value chain.

Easy to follow
This conversation is divided into 14 easy-to-follow chapters. 
Chapter One introduces coffee as the world’s favourite beverage, highlighting global consumption with a prime eye on the European and North American markets. The Nordic countries notably have a higher per capita consumption than others, followed by other European nations, with evidence of Europe’s position as the most significant destination of all coffee imports from the producing countries. 

“Most of the consumption is in the form of roasted and ground coffee, but it is also noteworthy that there is an increasing consumption of instant coffee. There is a revolution in the market in producing and consuming countries because of significant improvements in instant coffee,” writes the author. 

He adds: “The change has to do with the innovations and reinventions that have greatly enhanced its quality.”
In subsequent chapters, the enhancement of the quality of coffee is explained as one of the pillars offering a standing solution to the draining of poverty in our coffee cups. The author also adds that developed consumer markets have strict legal and non-legal requirements, which set a high bar for processed coffee. 

“These regulations mainly apply to primary or extra food safety certification and sustainability standards. Also, coffee that meets high compliance standards with specific niche requirements or exceptionally high sustainability and quality thresholds may have increased chances of access to some markets. Such coffee may command higher prices/values, though the volumes are lower than those for the conventional market,” Kawuma notes.

The wider world 
Chapter Two focuses on consumption in the rest of the world, covering Latin America, Asia, Oceania, and Africa—the significance of the emerging markets and the potential in those markets. While Africa is a significant coffee-producing region, consumption varies across countries. Most of the coffee produced in Africa is exported mainly to Europe in its raw form and then imported into Africa—some of it still in raw form and some as a finished product ready for consumption. 

Uganda, Africa’s leading coffee exporter, has witnessed changes to its coffee industry, which have led to a transformation in how coffee is consumed, focusing on specialty coffee, education, and the creation of inviting spaces. 

The growth of the café industry arose from increased consumption and has sparked a positive economic impact on the country. 

“The rise in domestic consumption creates new market opportunities, stimulates local production, and supports the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farmers,” the author reveals. 

Health benefits 
In Chapter Three, the author examines coffee for its potential effects on health. In the process, he discusses coffee’s antioxidant properties, how it boosts energy and mental alertness, enhances physical performance and metabolism, improves liver health, bolsters mental health and positively affects cardiovascular health, among others.

“The potential health benefits of drinking coffee include protection against Type-2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, and liver cancer. One study published in 2007, carried out by Hyon Choi and others over 12 years, involving over 45,000 men, looked at coffee consumption and the risk of incident gout in men and concluded that long-term consumption showed a lower risk of gout,” he states. 

Hot topic 
Chapter Four discusses coffee and poverty. This chapter highlights the plight of the coffee producers, the unfavourable conditions under which they operate and a call for action to all concerned parties. It is paradoxical that with a rise in coffee consumption, there is no corresponding amelioration of the conditions by which coffee producers thrive or fail. The measurement of these conditions is crystallised by indices which reflect significant poverty in coffee-producing countries.  

In this regard, the global multidimensional poverty index (MPI) is a faithful measure. The MPI is described as “an international measure of acute multidimensional poverty covering more than 100 developing countries. It complements traditional monetary poverty measures by simultaneously capturing the acute deprivations in health, education, and living standards that a person faces.” 

The MPI, the author shows, covers more than 100 developing countries and is a favourable addition to the traditional measures of monetary poverty. The data analysed in determining the MPI may vary from one country to another. However, it concerns severe deprivations that people concurrently face in health, education, and living standards. 

The available data referenced by the MPI indicates that 1.2b people, mostly from developing countries, live in conditions characteristic of acute multidimensional poverty. The origins and complexities of this poverty must be fully appreciated before it is effectively addressed. 

Top producer
Chapter Five focuses on where the coffee is grown, pointing out the top-producing countries and how it is grown in those countries. Brazil is the top producer, and the Latin American region leads in production, accounting for almost 60 percent of the global output.

Uganda in 2020 was officially recognised as the largest African producer and the sixth-largest global producer of coffee beans, producing both the Robusta and Arabica variety.

In this chapter, we are reminded of where our coffee comes from to determine how much our coffee cups overflow with poverty. By this metric, where our coffee comes from serves to highlight not only how much must be done to redress the said conditions of coffee producers but also to frontend the culture arising therefrom. 

The coffee culture 
Chapter Six discusses coffee and culture, and explicitly highlights the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. 
“All connoisseurs want this encounter, which starts with roasting the beans in a clay or metallic skillet over a charcoal stove. The roast’s aroma fills the room—an important Ethiopian experience,” the author writes.

The coffee cultures in the different countries are the focal points of this chapter. Appropriately, then, there is a discussion on the origins of both Arabica and Robusta, the two commonest types, explicitly focusing on Ethiopia as the origin of Arabica coffee and Uganda as the origin of Robusta and the Buganda coffee culture.

Chapter Seven discusses the genesis of the World Coffee Producers Forum as the producers’ initiative to address farmers’ global plight and what it has achieved. 

Chapter Eight looks at some innovations that could increase producers’ earnings and concedes that there is much more to do to address the issue of poverty among coffee producers. 

Transformational ideas 
Chapter Nine discusses a few transformational ideas and their potential impact on the global coffee industry. 

“Producer countries facing the challenge of an imbalance in trade and the disparity between the price of coffee at the origin and the price paid by the final consumer can consider several transformation ideas. Some potential strategies can include value addition, direct trade and fair trade, reforming cooperatives or empowering producer organisations to participate in dismantling the poverty profile,” the author notes. 

Uganda is one of the world's major leading coffee exporters. PHOTO/FILE

In the case of diversification, cultivating other high-value crops, which can reduce reliance on coffee as the sole source of income and provide additional revenue streams is welcome. However, with value addition along the value chain, there is a diversity of activity in the coffee industry. This activity may be tapped by stakeholders at the various stages of the supply chain as economic linkages are strengthened. 

Challenges to coffee 
Although there are several opportunities for the growth of the coffee industry, there are concomitant challenges. The author shares these challenges in the name of inadequate infrastructure, limited access to financing and market information, fluctuating international coffee prices, pests and diseases (such as coffee wilt disease and coffee berry disease), and climate change impacts like irregular rainfall patterns and rising temperatures.

These challenges must be addressed for the short, medium and long-term development of the coffee industry. Still, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Prosperity and more 
Chapter Ten walks the proposed path to prosperity for producers. There have been several proposals towards exploring how best the coffee industry benefits from global multi-stakeholder funding mechanisms to leverage investment in the coffee sector. This investment should come in the shape of public and private sector funding, buttressing environmental and social safeguards as well as fostering the development of sustainable coffee regions.  

The London Declaration, mentioned rather extensively in this book, can be viewed through this multi-stakeholder funding prism. Also, in Uganda’s case, some of these proposals have already found expression in concrete circumstances.  

The author discusses conservationist Dr Kalema-Zikusoka’s organisation known as Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). This organisation developed a model involving coffee and community partnerships in gorilla conservation efforts. 

“CTPH buys and markets the coffee grown by communities around the national park, where some of the proceeds go into gorilla conservation efforts. The cause-related marketing presents the unique brand of ‘Gorilla Conservation Coffee’ sold worldwide at a premium. In a win-win relationship, the farmers, in partnership with CTPH, receive various services and obtain very good prices for their produce,” says the author.

“The coffee farmers in this community are not just in survival mode but on the way to prosperity. The CTPH model is an example of an innovative approach that involves the conservation of endangered species but could be adapted to any other cause and has the potential to provide value in all dimensions — social, economic and environmental,” he adds.

Coffee tourism
In the 1990s, Kenya saw an increase in the number of visitors to that country as part of the efforts of Kenya Coffee Safari. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Kenyan government, through the Coffee Board of Kenya, made muscular efforts to attract international coffee enthusiasts to visit the country on an itinerary that included farm visits, national park excursions and tours of coffee establishments, including the weekly coffee auction. 

“It has to be acknowledged that coffee tourism in producing countries offers a range of opportunities for both the local economies and tourists interested in coffee culture. Coffee-producing countries are able to leverage their rich heritage to attract visitors and create sustainable income streams,” writes the author. 

Emerging issues 
Chapter Eleven discusses some emerging issues that the producers closely follow and watch. 
“There is a need for a virtuous circle that will lead to farmer prosperity at the global level. There must be a shared responsibility between all the global coffee value chain players. There is an urgent need for measures to ensure the sustainability of global coffee production, and in this, the producer is a critical starting point,” states the author. 

In not as many words, the author says that efforts from policy to producer level must envision partnership between society and the coffee industry to that ensure a stable supply of coffee, safeguards for farmers’ incomes, environmental protections and other initiatives which dovetail to entail a coffee producer not getting the short of the industrial stick. 

Such initiatives contribute to the sustainable development of the coffee industry through fostering the spirit and practice of innovation, ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources and climate action, along with achieving a balanced development of the country’s productive capacities.

His story 
Chapter Twelve narrates the author’s story and coffee experience, which provide the background to the writing of this book. 

This part of the book is extremely enriching as a personal testimony of a man who has been around the proverbial block and is thereby in a commanding position to dispense some welcome insights about the coffee industry. 

“The author is an effective ambassador for African coffee, whose work has catapulted him to become a global coffee ambassador championing the cause of coffee producers globally,” says Rt Hon Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the former prime minister of Uganda. 

This reputation is further testament of the author’s suitability in dispensing said advice. Still, before he reached the lofty heights as a coffee ambassador, the author was making his bones at other levels of the value chain. 

“My work with UCTF [Uganda Coffee Trade Federation] was in the mid-to-late 1990s, and I was in my 30s and full of energy. Unfortunately, there were a lot of misunderstandings and persistent suspicions between the government and the private sector, and I got caught in between the two parties. The coffee exporters I represented thought I was working in the government’s interests, while government officials viewed me with suspicion of covering up for the ‘sins’ of the exporters,” writes the author. 

UCTF metamorphosed from the Uganda Coffee Exporters Association (UCEA), the latter was founded in 1992 by private coffee exporters and was later officially registered in 1993. Its cardinal remit was to serve as a forum that brought together all the coffee exporters.

UCTF was billed as a more encompassing trade association and was founded in 1996, to unite all those involved in coffee trade in Uganda.

That said, the excerpt above regarding the author’s experience while at UCTF is certainly something worth pondering. 

If there is any deficit of trust between the private sector and government, this will not augur well for the country’s development. 

That is because the private sector and government are essentially business partners who complement each other’s roles, even when they contradict each other. So their shared trust is pivotal.  

Fourth wave   
The author revealed that the Australian coffee scene spawned enthusiasts who embraced the concept of the third wave of coffee, which emphasises coffee’s traceability, craftsmanship, and singular flavour profiles.
This concept points to the spirit of innovation, often the product of an entrepreneurial cast of mind. 

Uganda, nine years ago, topped a ranking of the world’s most entrepreneurial countries, according to a study conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. 
If Uganda can apply this entrepreneurial spirit to developing the coffee industry, we might witness a fourth wave of coffee.

Book details
 Author: Frederick SM Kawuma

Title: Is There Poverty in Your Cup of Coffee? A Profile of the Global Coffee Value Chain

Published: 2024

2024 Coffee Report
 A report by the Ministry of Finance indicates that coffee is the second largest export earner after gold with a market share of about 13 percent. In the 12 months ended February, data indicates that coffee earned Uganda a monthly average of $84.3m (Shs321b), which returned a cumulative income of $1b (Shs3.8 trillion).

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority report indicates that in March, Uganda exported 33,328 sixty-kilogramme bags, or 10 percent of its coffee within Africa, which, however, was a reduction from the 60,948 bags recorded in February, with Sudan, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, and Kenya being the biggest destination markets.  

The report also indicates that 59.16 percent of Uganda’s coffee is bought by 10 companies including Olam International, which buys a share of 9.16 percent and Volcafe (7.53 percent) and Touton (7.37 percent).