Uganda is still Africa's second largest coffee producer after Ethiopia, but it might not be for much longer. While it is the only country where coffee production has risen among the top producers in the last coffee year, the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) has warned that more needs to be done in order to save the livelihoods of millions of small-holder farmers of the crop and the country's foreign exchange revenues.
According to the latest global coffee production report, Ethiopia remains the largest coffee-producing country in Africa with 6.4 million 60-kg bags in 2012/2013, followed by Uganda at 3.7 million, Côte d'Ivoire (two million) and Tanzania (1.1 million). However, there has been a massive global decline in production, which is being attributed to climate change.
The ICO is now calling on the public and private sectors to step up and invest in robust scientific research and extension services to farmers. It says if nothing is done to mitigate the effects that climate change will continue to have on coffee production, everyone along the supply chain would suffer but farmers would be hit the hardest.
"It is the millions of smallholder, coffee producing families who live in regions of the world with the lowest levels of access to agricultural services or protections whose livelihoods will be disrupted the most," the report reads in part.
It says Governments, private companies, and foundations must collaborate to invest in scientific research of major food crops to support the needs of farmers with disease-resistant crop varieties, innovations in farming implements, knowledge on efficient farming techniques, among other services. Uganda falls in the category of countries with low access to agricultural services and protection.
Indeed, the local experts are worried and wouldn't want what has befallen other countries such as Ethiopia to happen to here. "Climate change is real and we have started mapping climate change and agro-climate conditions looking for hotspots to be most affected," says Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, the head of biotechnology at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).
He says they are also looking at crops grown in those areas and mapping them as well. For some they are collecting samples and to be stored in seed banks as well as carrying out studies on climate mitigation measures on how crops were preserved in the past when there were changing climatic conditions.
In early April 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report, which predicted serious threats to coffee due to rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. Based on a thorough review of scientific studies on climate change from around the globe, the IPCC projected that coffee production, especially Arabica, would be significantly reduced by the spread of plant diseases and pests in all countries studied by 2050.
According to the US Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA-FAS), world coffee production during the 2013/14 crop year was just slightly over nine million tonnes, down 3.2% from the record 9.3 million tons in 2012/13.
The ICO report puts emphasis on governments going into Public Private Partnerships to deal with rising temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, and rising pest incidence, which experts say will increasingly affect future coffee production, requiring adaptation measures.
In East and Central Africa, the Black Coffee Twig Borer (BCTB) has caused unimagined damage to the coffee plants, and is now hitting other types of crops. Last year, Ugandan scientists encountered the disease crossing from coffee to attack other different types of fruits and vegetables. BCTB has now been identified in about 50 plants species especially mangoes, jackfruit, eggplant, guavas, tomatoes, avocados, bitter balls and cocoa.
Africano Kangire, director of the Uganda Coffee Research Centre, said the epidemic should be treated as a "national emergency." Ugandan scientists in 2012 warned that the effects of climate change especially with the rise in temperature are likely to increase the spread of crop diseases and pests. At the 111th ICO Council, the Ugandan delegation expressed concern about the outbreak of BCTB, warning that it had the potential to spread within East and Central Africa thus endangering the livelihoods of the coffee growers.
In Uganda, the incidence has been registered at 8.6%, causing a loss of 40% of the affected crop. It is the worst seen since this pest appeared in Africa in 1993, and has led Uganda to declare a phytosanitary emergency so as to trigger the necessary national measures to combat the epidemic.
It is estimated that $42 million worth of Uganda's coffee - about 0.27 million bags of exportable coffee in Uganda - have already been lost as a result of the BCTB in the coffee year 2012/2013, and this will bring about a systematic reduction in the region'sproduction as from the coffee year 2013/14. Governments and the private coffee sector in the region are together making joint efforts to address the situation.
Faced with an increase in pests, diseases, and droughts, one of the most crucial agricultural services required by the coffee sector today is plant breeding to produce more resilient hybrid coffee varieties.
The report says, the public and private sectors need to act now to support coffee science and extension, engaging the consumers to get involved as well.
The report notes that adaptation is possible if strong public-private investments in scientific research are supported. "Let's work together to make this happen," it concludes.