Uganda coffee a hit in foreign markets but shunned at home

BY GILBERT MWIJUKE

On a sunny morning, Nasser Mutesasira hands out free packets of processed coffee to farmers who sell coffee beans to his company for processing.

“I’m giving you this coffee so you can taste your own products,” says Mutesasira, who buys coffee beans from 991 farmers in the hilly areas of Kapchorwa, Bulambuli, Mbale and Bududa.

Though generations of farmers have grown the coveted Arabica coffee here, only a handful have ever brewed a cup of coffee from their beans.

Farmers grow coffee for commercial rather than home consumption.

export earnings

Uganda is one of Africa’s largest exporters of high-quality Arabica and Robusta coffee, but less than five percent of the coffee produced locally is consumed in the country, says Mutesasira, who runs Sipi Hills Coffee in Mbale, Uganda’s Arabica coffee hub.

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Latest statistics from regulator Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) show that the country exported 389,936.46 tons of coffee and earned US$2.35 trillion ($627.18 million) in 2021.

As of April 2022, Italy was the largest importer of Uganda’s coffee with a 33.12 percent market share, followed by Sudan with 14.59 percent, Germany with 13.41 percent, India with 7.71 percent and the United States with 7.3 percent .

In the same month, African countries accounted for 23 percent of Uganda’s coffee exports, with Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Tanzania, South Africa, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya being the main markets.

But while Uganda exports nearly 400 million kilograms of coffee annually, only about 14,688,000 kg are consumed at home, UCDA statistics show. Despite the 88 registered coffee exporting companies in the country, only 20 Ugandan brands are available on local supermarket shelves.

Joel Kaburu, who runs Uganda Coffee Tours, a company that organizes coffee tours and processes coffee into souvenirs for local and international tourists, is dismayed that while many Ugandans avoid locally processed coffee, they end up buying imported brands at exorbitant prices.

“These ordinary coffees are made from the triage, which is basically the defective coffee beans. Our locally produced coffee is of a much better quality, but these international brands are good at marketing and branding,” he says.

On average, a Ugandan farmer sells a kilo of Arabica coffee for Ush 10,000 ($2.66) and Robusta for Ush 4,000 ($1.07). In Uganda there are about 1.7 million households that grow coffee.

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