By Bwayo Ivan
Agriculture is a backbone of Uganda. Uganda whose coffee rates the most valuable cash crop in the world is consumed expensively in both local and foreign countries when it is processed. However, coffee today has been registered deteriorating in output year after year. In the 1980s, coffee continued to be Uganda’s most valuable cash crop. The government estimated that farmers planted approximately 191,700 hectares of Robusta Coffee, mostly in Southeastern Uganda, and about 33,000 hectares of Arabica Coffee in Southeastern and Southwestern Uganda. Between 1984 and 1986, the European Economic Community (EEC) financed a coffee rehabilitation program that gave improved coffee production a high priority. This program also supported research, extension work, and training programs to upgrade coffee farmers’ skills and understanding of their role in the economy. Some funds were also used to rehabilitate coffee factories.
In 1986, President Museveni set high priorities on improving coffee production, reducing the amount of coffee smuggled into neighboring countries, and diversifying into export of crops to reduce Uganda’s dependence on world coffee prices. To accomplish these goals, in keeping with the second phase of the coffee rehabilitation program, the government raised coffee prices paid to producers in May 1986 and February 1987. The 1987 increase came after the Coffee Marketing Board launched an aggressive program to increase export volumes.
By December 1988, the Coffee Marketing Board was unable to pay farmers for new deliveries of coffee or to repay loans for previous purchases. Uganda was a member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO), a consortium of coffee-producing nations that set international production quotas and prices. The ICO set Uganda’s annual export quota at only 4 percent of worldwide coffee exports. The rising demand and rising price resulted in a 1989 global quota increase to 58 million bags. Uganda’s entire quota increase was allocated to Arabica coffee, which was grown primarily in the small southeastern region of Bugisu.
In 1989, Uganda’s coffee production capacity exceeded its quota of 2.3 million bags, but export volumes were still diminished by economic and security problems, and large amounts of coffee were still being smuggled out of Uganda for sale in neighboring countries. Then in July 1989, the ICO agreement collapsed, as its members failed to agree on production quotas and prices, and they decided to allow market conditions to determine world coffee prices for two years. Coffee prices plummeted, and Uganda was unable to make up the lost revenues by increasing export volumes. In October 1989, the government devalued the shilling, making Uganda’s coffee exports more competitive worldwide, but Ugandan officials still viewed the collapse of the ICO agreement as a devastating blow to the local economy. From that time to date, the production of coffee kept on declining year after year.
The realization of the then importance of coffee did not continue after the independence, especially, 1970s when turbulence in our politics set in and conflicts affected the placement of people. Even then, coffee still sustained our economy.
Collectively, through Operation Wealth Creation, there is a belief that Uganda can still become a powerful voice that will have the power to demand and bargain for financing inputs, cottage industries that create jobs and bargain for prices of commodities in respective locality depending on the scale of production. Operation wealth creation in partnership with Uganda Coffee Development Authority distributed a total of 336,724,649 coffee seedlings to 579,027 households spread in 104 districts in FY 2017/18.
The seedlings distributed between September and November 2017 were 153,654,317 while a total of 183,070,332 were distributed in March to May 2018 planting window. Cumulatively, a total of 728,776,000 seedlings have been distributed over the last four years. This shows that there is a race by the government to empower people to revive the culture of growing coffee so that poverty can be reduced among the people.
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