Uganda would be earning more foreign exchange from coffee, its leading cash crop, if there was a law regulating the sector, dealers have said.
Joseph Nkandu, the Executive Director of National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe), says government is lax and needs to fast-track the enactment of the coffee law to guide the crop’s production and marketing.
Nucafe boasts of 200 member associations and cooperatives and operates a farmer ownership model which enables farmers to own their coffee along the various stages of the value chains.
And, according to Nkandu, the delay in the enactment of the law has created uncertainty in the coffee sub-sector and that it is partly responsible for the declining quality and coffee, despite natural uncertainties like prolonged drought.
“We are now posting reduced coffee volumes and value because of declining yields and low coffee quality,” Nkandu says.
Nkandu, who has been dealing in coffee for years, says time has come for all coffee stakeholders in the country to produce high quality coffee so as to remain competitive on the world market that has competitors like Brazil and Colombia among other countries.
Further, according to Nkandu, the National Coffee Policy formulated in 2013 has not done much to improve the local coffee sector where some farmers and dealers don’t emphasise standards.
Nkandu’s concerns are echoed by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) which has reported declining coffee exports that fell to 326,232 60kg-bags in April, compared to 409,916 bags exported in March.
UCDA, the government agency mandated by law to develop Uganda’s coffee sub-sector, estimates May exports should have been 300,000 bags.
Dealers fear the declining coffee volumes will continue to bring in less dollars. For instance, the drop in April coffee sales meant that the country earnedS$39.36 million US dollars, less than the US$50.44 million it earned in March this year.
Meanwhile, government seems determined to streamline the coffee sub-sector law in place as parliament has included the coffee bill for debate in the new financial year. The bill is among several other bills deemed urgent for passing into law.
If enacted, the law will streamline the production and marketing of coffee, provide standards for pre-and post-harvesting but also establish punitive measures for offenders such as those who pack moist berries or dry coffee beans on bare ground.
Days ago, UCDA closed at least 30 coffee factories in Lwengo district for allegedly dealing in unripe coffee but some were later re-opened after the intervention of agriculture minister Vincent Ssempijja.
Nucafe recently started operating a coffee processing plant at Namanve Industrial Park, Wakiso district.