What you need to know:
The project was expected to not only teach people how to drink and grow coffee but only empower and attract youth to venture in the sector across the country.
A project meant to help Ugandans wake up and smell the coffee -- instead appears to have left a bitter taste in the mouth.
Launched last year, the ambitious project to promote coffee growing around the country has turned out to be something of a loss-making farce after costing the taxpayer close to Shs10 billion.
The 2023 Auditor General’s (AG) report shows that the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) spent Shs1.9 billion out of Shs9.662 billion on training youth how to drink coffee, among other things. Part of the money was also spent on training farmers how to produce more coffee, and on financial literacy and business management skills.
Under the project, the contract to promote the drinking of coffee amongst young people was awarded to a private company, Inspire Africa (U) Limited. However, from the findings of the audit and our survey, it does not appear to have achieved much largely on account of reported mismanagement.
Addressing the issue in July 2023, Dr Robert Limlim, a director at OPM, defended the high costs of the campaign, emphasising that the primary goal was to educate individuals.
He said the allocated funds were used to buy coffee processing equipment and to help young people integrate into the coffee industry.
Despite the original grand expectations from the project, the AG’s report and a recent survey by Daily Monitor revealed that the coffee shops purportedly set up in Gulu, Lira, and Mbale and other cities during the campaign are either non-existent or have been abandoned.
The coffee boot camps set up by Inspire Africa were meant for coffee brewing, packing, roasting and as sale points.
In Arua City, the coffee shop that was established near the Post Bank branch is lying empty and idle and has become a den for reptiles.
The facility’s doors are left dangling open with no activity taking place inside.
Mr Simon Aliga, one of the residents who attended the opening ceremony for the coffee shop in Arua, held in 2019, said he had thought the campaign would be a good opportunity for the people to drink coffee and make money.
“Up to now, we do not know who is responsible for setting up this coffee shop because the place is abandoned,” Mr Aliga said yesterday.
Ms Loyce Wadia, another resident, said accountability needs to be made to the public.
“I am sure this was taxpayers’ money that was used. If the government can waste money on non-issues like this shop when hospitals run out of drugs, then we are doomed,” she said.
In eastern Uganda, the so-called coffee drinking campaign has turned into a disappointment among young people after shops that had employed hundreds of youth closed under unclear circumstances
The Malaba Town Council Chairperson, Mr Andrew Orono Mugisha, said the programme’s failure has left most youth who benefited from the training in tears.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost such a magnificent youth programme which we thought was going to address issues of unemployment among the young people but I attribute this to mere greed,” he said.
Mr Mugisha said a landlord has even dragged the proprietors to court after failing to pay rent for the place they had hired to train people on how to drink coffee.
“The landlord secured court bailiffs who ended up evicting them and confiscating some of the kitchen utensils to help recover rental arrears,” he said.
Mr Kalami Asa Orimodi, the former chairperson of Malaba Town Council, said some of the kitchen utensils and other restaurant items that had been branded in the names of the programme were sold to other restaurant owners.
“The programme name has been erased from the signpost and replaced by ‘More Square Gardens’ and is being run by a Kenyan national,” he said.
In Mbale City, Mr Dominic Mafabi, a beneficiary of the programme before it went bust, said business was picking up but their leaders allegedly mismanaged it.
“The programme had reached a state of managing events, especially hiring tents and public address systems but our managers misused the money and could not even consider paying us salaries,” he said.
Relatedly, farmers in Lango and Acholi sub-regions are selling their coffee cheaply to private buyers because a coffee processing factory established by the government in Loro Town Council, Oyam District, in 2022, has been non-functional because of lack of electricity to power it.
Mr John Charles Owot, the chairperson of Loro Coffee Growers’ Cooperative Society located at Opopong Cell, Western Ward, said the Ministry of Agriculture gave them Shs199 million. This money was used to build the coffee factory and install modern coffee processing machinery. Sadly, the factory is lying idle because the farmers cannot afford the cost of electricity connection, he said.
Mr Owot added: “The factory is located 1.3 kilometres away from the electricity power line and the money needed for extending the power line to the facility is over Shs114 million, which the coffee farmers cannot afford.”
At least 102 coffee farmers are registered members of Loro Coffee Growers’ Cooperative Society which started in 2021. But they have nothing to show for it.
“If our coffee factory was operating, we would be buying coffee from farmers at Shs8,000 per kilo, but now they are selling them cheaply to private buyers at between Shs3,500 to Shs4,000 a kilo,” Mr Owot said, adding that, “This factory has the capacity to crush 2.5 tonnes of coffee per hour. So, that means it would need a lot of coffee from farmers in Lango and Acholi sub-regions to operate at full capacity.”
Farmers in neighbouring Apac District said they did not receive training on either how to grow or drink coffee.
Mr Joseph Otim, a farmer in Apac Municipality, said: “I don’t know anything about coffee growing because no one has ever taught me about coffee.”
Mr Denis Tyan, a resident of Akokoro Town Council in Apac corroborates Mr Otim’s story.
“In this Apac, I have never heard of any programme of teaching people how to drink coffee. This is how some people in the government have been misusing public funds,” he said.
About coffee Exports
According to Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), exports for the twelve months (January-December 2023) totaled 6.12m bags worth $965.14m compared to 5.63m bags worth $ 860.45m in 2022, representing an increase of 12 percent and 9 percent in quantity and value.
The authority says coffee exports in December 2023 amounted to 401,336 60 kilo bags, worth $65.94m, comprising 337,026 bags of Robusta valued at $52.84m and 64,310 bags of Arabica at $13.10m, a decrease of 4 percent in quantity and an increase of 11 percent in value compared to December 2022.
Meanwhile, coffee exports in November 2023 were 425,526 bags worth $78.96m. This comprised 338,329 bags of Robusta valued at $53.12m and 87,197 bags of Arabica at $17.57m. Coffee exports for 12 months (November 2022-October 2023) totaled 6.16m bags worth $952.24m.
UCDA added that the top ten export destinations of Uganda’s coffee had a market share of 87 percent in 2023.
The top destinations are Italy ( 28 percent), Germany (21 percent), Sudan (9percent), India (8 percent), Spain (6 percent), Belgium ( 5 percent), Algeria (4 percent), Morocco (3 percent), USA (3 percent) and Russia ( 2 percent).
Compiled by Bill Oketch, Patrick Ebong, Felix Warom Okello, Joseph Omollo, Fred Wambede & Santo Ojok.