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Coffee Value Chain Can Be Cool For Young Farmers

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GeraldKatabazi 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 coffeeshop, located on Forest Mall, Lugogo in Kampala, is frequented by an elite class of Ugandans who ‘understand’ coffee. However, he is 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 to the English language,” he says.

However, 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 US 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.

Across the coffee growing zones, the crop is largely grown by older people, mostly over 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 young people are further up in the value chain, doing things like roasting and branding, but even then, the numbers are still low.  

“Young people may not necessarily grow coffee in the shambas, but there are loads of opportunities across the upper value chain, right from harvesting, grading, roasting and packaging,” Katabazi says.

He says 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,” Katabazi says.      

Patrick Bakumpe Makanga is a 35-year-old coffee farmer in Kyotera, Uganda. He started growing coffee in his 20s.

 “Unlike fellow young people, I went for the lower end of the value chain,” he says. He currently has over 20 acres of coffee.

“My young colleagues told me that coffee farming takes long to pay, it seems they are content with quick money,” he says.

However, Makanga says is also wrong. “I am comfortable with my life, but I think it is also okay for them to start in the upper value chain, then drop down to the farm as they grow.”  

State of coffee sector

According to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), the coffee industry is set to grow even faster. 

Makanga says the market as another ingredient for growth, with a lot of opportunities for young people. The global coffee consumption has for the past five decades been growing at a rate of more than 2.5% per year and it is projected that by 2030 the market will be requiring an additional 50 million bags. The Government decided to increase coffee exports by increasing coffee production and productivity through accelerated planting and rejuvenation of the existing coffee trees.

The number of farmers involved in generation of coffee seedlings has grown to more than 2,000 nursery operators with capacity to produce 300 million seedlings per year. Coffee production has been on the upward trend reaching 4.3 million bags in 2016 and 5.6.2 million bags in 2019 and 7.6 million in 2020, which is the highest since the 4.4 million bags in 1995.

Coffee farming has now been taken on by the elite who had always shunned it and the number of big coffee farms is increasing.  

Katabazi’s coffee beans dryer

Post-harvest handling offers opportunities

Inside the several drawers at Katabazi’s coffee shop are samples of coffee beans packed in different bags. Some of them come from Sipi, there is Bugisu coffee, there is a kaveera, perhaps 1kg that came from Luwero, there is coffee from Bushenyi, Masaka or Rakai.

Katabazi opens one of the drawers and pulls out a bag from Luwero. The bag carries the telephone contact of the farmer, but the actual location of the farm is not clear. It is also indicated that these beans are Screen 18. Screen 18 is one of the largest size of the coffee bean and one of the best.

“The bigger the size, the higher the quality of the coffee. For example, if your coffee is Screen 18, then that has a higher quality compared to Screen 12,” he says. 

Katabazi further explains that the bean size is a product of the botanical species, age of the crop and husbandry level.

“If a farmer selected the right variety, nurtured it well and harvested only mature, ripe beans, then he is likely to get a higher grading, which also fetches more money,” he says.

Katabazi shakes the bag and then shakes his head too. “This is not right.” He adds: “This is not how we should be packing our coffee. The selection was also not very good.”

This, Katabazi says, is one of the opportunities for young people who see things ‘differently’.

“There is an opportunity to invest in coffee packaging for example,” he says.

Katabazi explains that good packaging must have an inner silver foliar that controls the temperature.    

Roasting and grinding is still virgin

Katabazi has a roaster, an oven for roasting, a coffee dispenser and several other things that make a fairly modern coffee shop. He says the average cost of all that equipment is about sh100m ($25000).

“We have over 17 coffee roasters and grinders at the moment,” he says.  There are at least 20 Ugandan coffee brands on the shelves. The domestic coffee consumption, according to UCDA, is less than 6% of the crop produced in the country, including the one exported and brought back to Uganda (imports) after processing it,” he says.

Katabazi feels that more youth should be encouraged to at least engage in roasting and grinding of coffee.

He, however, says cheaper roasting and grinding equipment can be fabricated by local artisans if they are guided.

“Young people like being called baristas,” he says. He adds, “If we get this equipment cheaply, then young investors can easily engage in coffee business,” he says.  With young people on board, visibility obviously increases and local consumption goes up too.  

“Our coffee per capita consumption per year is now over 0.36kgs. We need to raise it to 0.5kgs in the next five years and even more,” Katabazi says.  

Preparing instant coffee

He says in order to attract Ugandans to drinking coffee, roasters must create a Ugandan coffee drink.

“The taste and ‘hardness’ of the drink depends on the roasting. My experience is that Ugandans do not want the ‘bitter’ coffee, which is consumed in Ethiopia or Europe. We have to prepare a mild coffee drink,” he says. He, however, adds that this can only be achieved if the coffee baristas are trained.

Good money

With the machinery set, a kilogramme of shelled coffee beans costs sh5,000. It costs sh2,500 to roast 1kg, which brings the cost to sh7,500.  On the open market, a kilogramme of roasted and ground coffee cost between sh40,000 to sh60,000 depending on the brand. Across most speciality coffee shops, a cup of ground coffee goes for between sh5,000 and sh10,000. Katabazi says a kilogramme of ground coffee can spice 100 cups of sh5,000 each. This gives over sh500,000.

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