BusinessThinkTank: Experts discuss opportunities in the coffee sector amidst Covid-19

Elly Twineyo

In today’s episode of BusinessThinkTank, we are hosting experts in the coffee industry to discuss opportunities in the sector. The topic of discussion is Opportunities for coffee production amidst Covid-19

The show will be hosted by Agnes Kirabo, the executive director of Food Rights Alliance.

She will be extracting ideas from:

Gerald Katabazi, the founder and CEO of Volcano Coffee

Robert Mugenyi Musenze, the executive director of Africa Coffee Academy

Dr. Elly Twineyo, the executive director of Uganda Exports Promotion Board

Teopista Nakkungu, the chief coordinator of International Women’s Coffee Alliance

Dr. Dick Kamugagan, the president of Uganda National Farmers’ Federation

Kenneth Barigye, the managing director of Mountain Harvest

Edmund Kananura, the director of Quality Regulatory Services at Uganda Coffee Development Authority

Below are the takeaways:

Musenze: Africa Coffee Academy is found in Kamwokya. Covid-19 was a curse and a blessing. Production was hampered due to supply chain disruption and labour shortage.

But it has also helped farmers, especially those involved in “telephone farming”, to rethink how they do business.

Some coffee shops have closed, consumption went down.

Kananura: Coffee sector has not been affected very much as people say. Because the UCDA put up measures to help continuity of exports. Contracts have not been abused. Even up to now, production and exports have increased.

However, not everything was perfect. I would say the farmers were losing confidence in the future.

Some traders wanted to exploit the situation to underpay farmers. Coffee consumption at home has increased. Supermarkets have helped maintain supply to consumers.

Nakkungu: The Alliance advocates for removal of barriers that are affecting women participation in the coffee industry. We are in over twenty countries.

One of the challenges affecting women is lack of a platform to present our issues.

However, we have persevered and we have learned a lot, for instance, use of technology, to make connections, look for markets.

Barigye: We are focused on delivering high-quality coffee. And we support farmers to facilitate mutual benefits from the coffee sector.

Uganda has long been known as a producer of low quality coffee. Because of this, our coffee has been fetching low prices.

For instance, our neighbours — Kenya and Rwanda — sell at a higher price than ours.

The lockdown has changed the way people consume coffee and this has disrupted the industry. In Uganda, there has been a positive transition since people can no longer buy from coffee shops but from supermarkets and online platforms where Ugandan coffee is easily accessed at affordable prices.

Katabazi: Good quality is what I’ve been advocating for. I came with a concept on how to convey coffee to the consumer. We are rooting for behavior change in coffee consumption. We need to look at how best to convince people to drink our own coffee.

Musenze: Government is ensuring 20 million bags are produced annually to move to middle-income status. The current perception of coffee in Uganda was set in colonial times, with people made to think that coffee is meant for sale.

Kananura: Uganda robusta, which dominates our exports, fetches the best prices in the world. And this is because of its taste. A kilogram goes for $3.75. The price of Arabica is double the price of robusta. Ugandan robusta is number one in the world. We compete with India.

We’ve a comparative advantage by volumes and taste. We developed the protocols for identifying robusta brands.

On Arabica, countries beat us but we are not doing poorly, because, for instance, we beat Tanzania and Rwanda in terms of prices.

Our coffee has not been rejected on international level for the past twenty years I’ve worked at UCDA. However, we’ve had a few quality complaints. But we need to improve our practices.

Barigye: We have over 1.5 million households involved in coffee production, producing over 4.5 million bags. This translates to 232kgs of coffee per hectare as per UCDA data.

This could go to 831kg and above if we used better methods of farming.

Robusta is led by Vietnam globally while Uganda leads Africa.

We need to give farmers a financial incentive to improve the quality of coffee.

Katabazi: We’re still using a traditional approach in producing and marketing coffee. Information flow is still limited.

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