At the just-ended African Fine Coffee Conference and Exhibition at Kampala Serena Hotel, stakeholders were reminded of the importance of this cash crop to Uganda’s economy but also warned about challenges relating to quality and climate change, among others.
The government has been talking up plans to expand coffee production from 3.5 million bags until recently, to 20 million bags within a few years. While this target might appear very ambitious, it is achievable. And if it were achieved, this country would not remain the same.
It is evident that despite the challenges involved in the massive distribution of free coffee seedlings, the level of production has sharply risen and will continue to rise.
After stagnating at not more than 3.5 million 60kg bags for many years, Uganda’s annual coffee production shot to 4.7 million in 2017.
According to the national strategy developed by Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), Uganda aims to produce 5.8 million bags by 2020, and this should bring in $1.1bn. This target is already well within reach.
By 2040, this strategy foresees, Uganda should be producing 12 million bags and earning $2.5bn from it. If you consider that Uganda expects to earn up to $3bn from its much-hyped oil annually, you realise that the real black gold is in coffee.
Uganda has everything it needs to hit the 20 million bags target, and even surpass it, if the challenges highlighted in the conference are tackled.
What Vietnam has achieved, expanding production from one million bags in the 1980s to 26 million bags in 2017, shows that it can be done here too.
While there is much more fuss about oil, it is evident that oil revenues can’t trickle down as well as coffee earnings would. Besides, at 20 million bags, Uganda would be earning much more from her coffee than oil. And oil will be gone within 30 years while coffee will always be here!
Therefore, let’s invest more in extension services, deal decisively with pests and diseases, put in place irrigation schemes, and fix post-harvest handling, and coffee will become our real black gold.