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How To Maintain Coffee Standards As Prices Rise

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Samuel Balagadde and Joshua Kato

The current surging demand and high prices for coffee have led to an increase in crime related to the crop.

The price for semi-processed and fair, average quality (FAQ) (kase), for robusta coffee has hit a record sh14,000 per kilogramme, the highest ever compared to sh7,000 last year.

According to Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), the farm-gate price for unprocessed dry coffee is averaging sh6,500 to sh7,000 per kilogramme.

The high prices have motivated farmers to plant more coffee and maintain their existing plantations well. However, the high prices have led to malpractices and theft of immature coffee, which may also affect standards.

“Through experience, whenever prices rise, farmers tend to harvest immature coffee so as to benefit from the price boom,” UCDA’s Edward Lutakoome Ssentamu, says.

On the other hand, some farmers harvest coffee prematurely to prevent it from being stolen from the gardens at night, according to Kasirye Zimula, the Kassanda district chairperson, who is also a coffee farmer.

“It is up to local managers to stop this practice,” he says.

Zimula says a lot more intervention is needed to curtail the vice to redeem Uganda’s coffee quality on international market.

According to UCDA, coffee is grown in 117 of the 146 districts, with 83 of these growing robusta 17 growing Arabica and 17 growing both Arabica and Robusta.

Uganda’s coffee production, exports and earnings have continued to grow in the previous years.

According to UCDA, the country’s coffee exports for the 12 months (December 2022-November 2023) totalled 6.13 million, fetching the country $958.6m compared to 5.8 million bags worth $883.3m in the previous period (December 2021-November 2022). This represents an increase of 6% in quantity and 9% in value, respectively.

Recently, UCDA piloted digital registration of coffee farmers, farms and value chain actors for traceability and to obtain data that can be used for planning.

The Government and other key stakeholders in the coffee value chain are strategising to increase coffee production, focusing on quality assurance.

One strategy is the adoption of the Brazilian spacing of three metres between rows by one metre between plants for Robusta, which increases coffee yields, according to Joseph Nkandu, the executive director for National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises.

He says with this spacing, an acre can accommodate 1,333 plants as opposed to 450 plants under the conventional spacing.

Associations

Coffee farmers should embrace associations and co-operatives as a way for joint empowerment in best farming practices, according to Joseph Nkandu, the executive director of the National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises.

“Through such co-operatives, coffee farmers can jointly source for quality coffee seedlings and better markets,” he says.

Standards needed

Lutakoome, who is also a coffee trainer for the Harvest Money expo, says specifi c standards have been set by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards.

He says when harvesting, farmers should look out for ripe cherries, which should be handpicked and dried immediately on clean mats, tarpaulins, wire mesh, concrete fl oor or brick portions.

Regulations

Dr Emmanuel Lyamulemye, the managing director of UCDA, says punitive measures are being put in place for those that sell green coffee.

“We are finalising the draft regulation for operationalising the National Coffee Act of 2021, which was assented to by the President in September the same year,” Lyamulemye says.

The regulations are targeting more of traders in coffee at different stages.

Lyamulemye says UCDA is promoting wet processing as opposed to the conventional dry processing to address the vice of immature coffee harvesting. Immature harvesting affects the aroma and quality of the coffee.

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