The Observer (Kampala)

4 December 2012

Uganda: USAID Roots for Quality Coffee

When the government, through the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), launched the coffee replanting programme in 1994 after nearly half of the country's coffee plantations were ravaged by the coffee wilt disease, the authority had in mind a medium - term objective of raising its annual coffee exports to at least 180,000 tonnes.

This, however, remained a matter of debate among players in the coffee industry with some arguing that the targets were quite ambitious amidst the deteriorating quality of coffee. Out of poverty, many farmers are said not to mind much about the quality of the crop, with some harvesting the coffee prematurely as they seek to address their financial challenges. "Indiscriminate harvesting is affecting the quality and pricing," says Hajji Jaffar Mugembi, the Namungalwe LC III chairman in Iganga district.

When harvested before ripening, the coffee cherries turn black, which compromises the quality. In the end, the farmer is forced to sell at lower prices.

"When such coffee is taken to the hulling facilities, you'll get a lot of chalky white and black beans that turn the coffee into BHP (badly hulled product), that sells at a much lower price," says Abraham Batambuze, a field officer with the USAID - funded project - Livelihoods and Enterprises for Agricultural Development (LEAD).

The project seeks to enhance incomes for farmers through emphasizing quality improvement for agricultural produce. Going by the current market prices for processed coffee (kase), a kilogramme of coffee beans that satisfy the quality standards sells at about Shs 4,000 compared to about Shs 2,400 for the poor - quality coffee.

This, according to Julius Isabirye, the proprietor of Ayamba Coffee factory in Kamuli town council, is due to the high costs incurred during the hulling process of the coffee.

"In terms of electricity usage, the machine consumes about eight units of power for every 100kgs of poor - quality coffee beans as opposed to five units of power for the same amount of good - quality coffee," said Isabirye.

Under the LEAD project, Isabirye works with about 100 coffee farmers whom he helps to ensure that they get good quality coffee. Isabirye does this by helping farmers get access to quality seedlings, fertilizers and post - harvest handling facilities like tarpaulin covers on which the coffee is dried.

"We emphasize drying the coffee on tarpaulins because this ensures that the coffee doesn't get foreign materials that at the end of the day will compromise its quality," he said.

Most farmers have, however, not embraced this technology because of the costs involved. Tarpaulins have proved to be too expensive for ordinary farmers. A tarpaulin that can take up to 300kg of coffee sells at about Shs 50,000, a price that many farmers are not willing to incur.

Local governments, on the other hand, are also struggling to enforce the UCDA policy that provides for the arrest and prosecution of non - compliant farmers. Last month, two farmers became victims of the policy in Namungalwe sub-county, Iganga district but were released with the intervention of local political leaders.

LEAD's field officer for Busoga region Abraham Batambuze, however, believes that even without coercion, farmers will adapt to the quality standards.

"Adoption is gradual; once you are effecting change, some will resist it, that is why under LEAD, we are not moving with so many farmers, but with the early adapters and hopefully others will slowly embrace the change," he said.

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