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July 20, 2008

Climate change poses threat to Uganda's coffee sector

Changing weather patterns in Uganda may lead to the extinction of the East African country's key export, coffee, in coming decades, a report by British charity Oxfam said on July 17.

Uganda is Africa's second biggest coffee producer after Ethiopia and has become a major player in robusta coffee production after political unrest in former top grower Côte d'Ivoire slashed output.

"The outlook is bleak. If the average global temperatures rise by two degrees or more, then most of Uganda is likely to cease to be suitable for coffee ... this may happen in 40 years or perhaps as little as 30," the report said.

The report, Turning up the heat, Climate Change and Poverty in Uganda, said effects of global warming like increasing temperatures, more intense rains and storms, had led to erratic rainfall patterns in Uganda.

Coffee output in 2007/08 is seen at 2,85-million bags, up from 2,7-million the year before.

"According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, only patches of land on the periphery will still be able to grow coffee ... In the meantime, coffee farmers are going to have to adapt to rising temperatures," the report said.

Across much of Uganda, the climate is bimodal, meaning that there are two rainy seasons -- the first from March to June and the second from October to January.

Rainfall during the rainy seasons has become unreliable, it said, adding that reduced rain during the March to June season was causing drought, reductions in crop yields and plant varieties.

The late season rainfall was coming in more intense and destructive downpours, bringing floods, landslides and soil erosion, it said.

"But, farmers have continued to invest in Uganda's Robusta coffee and export earnings have continued to increase. This has helped protect losses from climatic problems," said Philip Gitao, head of the East African Fine Coffees Association.

Farmers have also adopted good husbandry practices such as using more hardy coffee plants, added Gitao, who was quoted in the Oxfam report.

Mail & Guardian

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Uganda received a total amount of 1,410 mm of rainfall in 2001 and 1,378mm in 2006. However in 2001 the rain fell over a period of 136 days with an average of 10.36mm per day, while in 200, it fell for over a period of 98 days, with an average of 14mm per day.

Across much of Uganda, the climate is bimodal, meaning that there are two rainy seasons; the first starting in March lasting until June and the second running from October/November to December/January.

"The relative importance of the two seasons for the crops varies around the country,� the report notes. In Karamoja the little rain can come anytime between March and September, with the most chance of rain falling in April," said the report.

While the areas around the Lake Victoria basin tend to become wetter, meteorologists found that the droughts, that periodically affect the western, northern and north-eastern districts, are becoming more frequent.


Meteorologists and farmers note that besides the rains being erratic, they are heavier and more violent than in the past, the study observes.

"What matters for farmers is the effectiveness, timing and distribution of rain throughout the crucial growing seasons."

For East Africa, most scientists predict that the region will become wetter, but rain will come in heavier bursts. There can be more rain yet also more droughts.

"This type of rain may not only be less useful, it may be damaging, smashing crops and washing away top soil."

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