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November 10, 2009

Drought may reduce Uganda coffee exports

by Fred Ojambo

Coffee exports from Uganda, Africa’s biggest producer of the robusta variety, may decline by more than 1.9 percent in the 2009-10 season because of drought, the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises said.

Shipments in the season, which started on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30, may fall below 3 million 60-kilogram (132-pound) bags from 3.06 million bags last season, Joseph Nkandu, the executive director at Nucafe, an advocacy group for coffee farmers, said in an interview in the capital, Kampala. This forecast is lower than that of 3.3 million to 3.4 million bags made by the state-run Uganda Coffee Development Authority on Oct. 12. “This year’s drought affected all growing regions,” he said. “In Masaka, which is the biggest producer, many coffee trees have wilted.”

The East African country experienced a prolonged drought earlier this year, which the agriculture ministry attributes to climate change. Uganda is Africa’s second-biggest producer of coffee, after Ethiopia. Robusta accounts for about 85 percent of the nation’s annual output with the country earning $291.29 million from the crop last season compared with $388.4 million 3.2 million bags in 2007-08 because of a drop in volume and global prices, the agency said.

Uganda should embrace the shade-tree coffee-growing method and reduce irrigation to save water resources, Nkandu said, as this “would help preserve moisture in the soil. We are asking government to come to our aid to reverse the negative trend.”

Fresh planting and improving farm management are helping the East African country boost its coffee output, according to the authority. Coffee wilt disease as well as old and less productive trees cut exports to a 14-year low of 1.96 million bags in 2005-06 from a high of more than 4 million bags in 1997- 98, according to the authority.

The disease, which was first detected in the country in 1993, has destroyed about 150 million coffee trees, or 52 percent of the total robusta trees Uganda had in 1993. The country also grows the arabica variety, which hasn’t suffered the brunt of the disease.

The authority distributed 86 million trees for replanting from 1994 to 2007, which has helped reverse the decline, according to the authority.


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