By Joshua Kato
Gerald Katabazi leans back on one of the chairs at his volcano coffee roasting place and smells the coffee aroma.
His life smells coffee.
His blood oozes coffee.
His tongue spits coffee.
His nose can identify the source of a certain coffee from a distance.
He is a coffee roaster.
“I started roasting coffee over 10 years ago,” he says.
His shop at Nakawa is frequented by an elite class of Ugandans who ‘understand’ coffee.
He is, however, not amused by those who visit and ask for ‘kyaayi owa kaawa’.
“Many Ugandans, including those who drink coffee call it ‘tea of coffee’ if you are to literally translate it,” he says.
But this only goes to show how detached Ugandans are from this precious drink.
And yet, coffee, until early this year, was the leading export income earner for Uganda.
It was only overtaken by Gold a few months back.
Uganda is also the second highest producer of coffee after Ethiopia in Africa and the leading exporter of coffee in Africa.
“It is a shame that we produce something but we do not consume it. We must work on that,” Katabazi says.
Katabazi has travelled the world, talking about Ugandan coffee.
“I have been to the United States and Europe with my message largely about marketing Ugandan coffee,” he says.
His experience across the value chain is invaluable. He admits that coffee roasting is still a virgin field for Uganda, with a lot of room for good investors, including young people.
Indeed, local coffee consumption remains very low.
According to Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) statistics, 188,700 bags of 60kgs were consumed locally in 2010.
The figure rose to 220,800 in 2013, 236,400 in 2016 and 244,800 in 2018. This is less than 10% of the total production.
Across the coffee growing zones, the crop is largely grown by older people, mostly older than 45 years.
According to the 2015 Sustainability of coffee sector growth in Africa report, the average coffee farmer in Uganda and generally Africa is 60 years.
This thus paints an uncertain future of the sector on one hand, but also provides opportunities to young people.
The report says that young people are further up in the value chain, doing things like roasting and branding, but even then, the numbers are still low.
Katabazi says that it is important that young people ‘smell’ the coffee aroma given the strategic importance of the crop to Uganda.
“Look at it this way, we have over 70% of the population below 30 years of age and we have coffee as the leading export earner. Bringing this large group of young people can obviously turn the sector around,” he says.