Coffee farmers in Uganda. Image: Coffee Partners
The east-central, African country of Uganda is a verdant country full of personality. While being the size of Great Britain, Uganda possesses a rich variety of ecosystems and ethnicities. While neighbouring African nations, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, are heralded for their coffee quality, Uganda has become a unique cornucopia for producing a diverse range of coffee, particularly Robusta.
In 1925, coffee only represented 1% of Uganda’s export. Today, coffee is the nation’s highest value export, making up 18% of Uganda’s exports. The Robusta coffee variety has come to hold a unique position in the culture of Uganda. It was in the early 1900s that Arabica was introduced into Uganda (most likely from Ethiopia), and while Arabica struggled against disease, the more disease-resistant Robusta variety seemed to flourish.
In 1929, the Coffee Industry Board was formed; acting as a strong contributor to the growth of the coffee industry. In 1969, the government passed the Coffee Act, allowing the Coffee Industry Board to take full control of pricing. Due to the centralisation of the pricing of coffee, coffee was found to be increasingly smuggled in neighbouring countries, to be sold for a higher price. While the Coffee Industry Board increased it’s payments to farmers in 1988, it soon ran into debt and ended up being bailed out by the government.
This collapse resulted in a drop in prices, along with a 20% decrease in production in 1990 (which was also caused by drought). This led to a more liberalised command of the industry, with the government playing a minimal role in the development of the coffee industry. This approach has proven to be beneficial, as it has provided for increased traceability, stronger reputations of producer groups, and easier access to Ugandan coffee.
The top echelon of Ugandan coffee is usually grown by producer groups or cooperatives. Ugandan coffee production uses two unique terms: Wugar (which refers to washed Ugandan Arabica) and Drugar (which refers to dried Ugandan Arabica). Uganda produces coffee across the whole calendar year. Most areas in Uganda have a main crop, followed by a smaller crop (also known as the ‘fly crop’).
Uganda just so happens to be the origin of the Robusta variety. The landscape of Uganda can be attributed to the flourishing of Robusta, as the variety is conducive to the nation’s altitude of 800 to 1,400m above sea level.
While wild varieties of coffee can still be found in western Uganda, Robusta has come to represent 77% of the annual coffee production in the county. Arabica makes up about 23% of the country’s production. While some sources have claimed that up to 20% of Ugandan coffee is certified, there have been difficulties in the verification and selling of certified coffee. From around 2007 to 2016, only 1.2% of Robusta exports were certified, and only 5% of Arabica exports were certified. Additionally, only UTZ certified and Certified Organic has been recognised and reported at export. The Ugandan Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) utilises a structured quality grading system, ensuring that coffees are certified and differentiated by origin, species, process, and more.
Located in eastern Uganda, Bugisu has developed a strong reputation for quality coffee; a reputation that most likely contributed to the conditions provided by Mount Elgon. Coffee plantations are found on the mountain slopes, with the accompanying soils, altitude and climate providing the most ideal conditions for producing excellent coffee.
The Arabica that is produced in the West Niles undergoes wet processing and patio drying. The coffee exemplifies hints of stone fruit, berries and wine. In addition, such coffees are known for having a full body and a medium acidity. While Arabicas are found closer to Lake Albert, Robusta can be found further north, close to the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This area borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is home to the Rwenzori mountains, where the highest coffee production in Uganda takes place. The ‘Drugars’ (the term given to naturally processed coffees) are commonly produced in this region.