By Jessica Chen
Coffee, a major and leading cash crop in Uganda has not only been seen as a means to raise the growth of the economy but the incomes and livelihoods of farmers and rural households across the country as well. Indeed, coffee production and processing provides employment to over 1.5 million people and constitutes over 60% of annual export revenues. Its value and export potential is currently expected to rise over the next several years.
The growing of coffee has been able to help many afford to feed their families, pay for their children’s schooling, buy homes and own small businesses. With such a prominent role in the economy, this has led me to question what problems currently exist in the coffee industry and what are means we can work towards addressing them? The drought that the country currently faces demonstrates that farmers everywhere are being affected by the realities of climate change. Yet I have learned that despite this, Ugandan farmers are incredibly innovative and resilient and have implemented ways to combat the effects of dry spells. Through various training initiatives by different organizations, climate smart practices are being implemented in order to save crops and yields. The planting of banana trees between the coffee plants for example, helps provide the crops shade from the heat as well as food for consumption. In addition, the recycling of plastic water bottles, filled with water and then inserted into the ground are just one of the methods to help to keep the soil moist.
Improving coffee production is not only tied to improving yields but also how coffee is being grown. In many small-holder farms, I have learnt that it is women who are often faced with a large burden of the work in both the field and household. As women in the villages are often denied opportunities to own land, they are subsequently denied opportunities for empowerment as loans and the benefits of their work (e.g. income) are often not available or shared unequally. As such, establishing women’s empowerment and gender equity are vital in the development of coffee trade and driving the growth of East African economy.
As my current placement has allowed me to do much work in helping to achieve agricultural standards and compliancy (for maize and sesame), I have also been applying this knowledge outside work and thinking lately about ways coffee production can be improved not only through better social practices but through value addition as well. Value can be enhanced through training, awareness raising and the export of processed rather than unprocessed product but these initiatives have yet to be as widespread as they could be. Improving quality and production of coffee is vital as it will help to drive exports and growth for the country. My plans to visit coffee plantations and processing plants in January will be sure to provide further perspective on these issues.
 “The Ugandan Coffee Industry”. Uganda Coffee Confederation. <http://www.ugandacoffeefederation.org/ resource-center/uganda-coffee-industry/>
Jessica Chen is working as an Intern in Rural Livelihoods with South and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) in Kampala, Uganda.