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Article written by Aidan Gant
Coffee in Uganda has been the main crop for export in the country for most of its modern life and in fact, contributes around 30% to the total national overseas foreign exchange.
Coffee production relies almost exclusively on the labour of smallholder farms and collectives owned and operated by Ugandan villagers and tribespeople. It is estimated by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), the governmental body for coffee’s agricultural production and export, that the coffee industry employs some 500,000 smallholder farms, providing jobs to over 3.5 million Ugandan families.
Uganda is the 7th largest producer of coffee in the world, exporting some 4.5 million bags of coffee every year and accounting for around 3.5% of the global coffee market.
IS COFFEE NATIVE TO UGANDA?
One particular variety of robusta bean grows naturally in Uganda’s rainforests and is thought to be one of the oldest surviving examples of coffee growing in the wild. Coffee is known to have originated in the ancient coffee forests of the Ethiopian Plateau and it is not such a migration from there to the forested areas along the shores of Lake Victoria, indeed it is believed likely that the later introduction of arabica beans followed a similar trajectory at the end of the 19th Century.
TYPES OF COFFEE IN UGANDA
There are two main types of coffee in Uganda grown for the international market. Robusta coffee varieties have been commercially farmed since the beginning of the 20th Century, while arabica was probably introduced from nearby East African countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya, and has been farmed for the export market ever since. Around 80% - 85% of the coffee beans produced in Uganda are robusta, with the remainder mostly being varieties of arabica.
A third type of coffee grown in Uganda is known locally as “Tuzza”. This is a modern, disease resistant variety of catimor, grown in lower regions for its high output in situations where even robusta may not yield the same crops. It is mostly used in blends and sold for consumption in instant coffee, not being considered fine enough to be drunk alone.