Blessed with two rainy seasons and a wide range of agro-ecologies, Uganda provides the world with a steady supply of Arabica and Robusta coffee throughout the year. Its high altitudes and cool equatorial climate promote slow ripening and give rise to some of the best coffees produced by Africa’s smallholder farmers.
With an average export of 3.5 million bags in the past five years, Uganda is Africa’s second-biggest coffee producer and and the continent’s largest Robusta exporter.
Uganda has over a century-long tradition of coffee production. The crop is grown by smallholder farmers in most of the country, with an exception of the arid North-East. It is estimated that one third of all rural households, or roughly 1.2 million families, are involved in producing coffee. As coffee producing households are significantly less poor, growing coffee is an important strategy for rural Ugandans to climb out of poverty. Farmers grow on average between 0.5 and 3 acres of coffee, and often intercrop it with banana plants and shade trees. This will help mitigate the expected impact of climate change (increased temperatures and more irregular rainfall) on coffee production.
Robusta, which is native to the humid rainforests on the Western borders of Uganda, is grown at altitudes of 1,200 to 1,500 meters above sea level throughout the country. As a result of the high altitudes at which it is grown, Uganda’s Robusta is often classed amongst the world’s finest Robusta coffees. Robusta production was hard hit by an epidemic of Coffee Wilt Disease (CWD) that eliminated half of the Robusta tree population. With the recent release of CWD resistant varieties, Uganda’s coffee sector is working hard to multiply these using both clonal and tissue culture approaches in order to replant the lost acreages as soon as possible. We expect to see the benefits of this in terms of a significant increase in Robusta production within the next five to ten years.
Uganda’s Arabicas are produced in the mountainous regions on the extreme ends of the country. We have seen a steady increase of the export share of Arabica over the past two decades from less than 10% to 20-25% of total exports. The washed Arabica coffees are sourced from the slopes of Mt. Elgon, a volcanic mountain with a bigger base than Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the East of Uganda and from the West-Nile/Paidha region bordering DR Congo. The natural Arabicas, or Drugars, come from the foot slopes of the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains in the west.
Ugandan Robusta has a rich aroma, a full body with winey flavours and is just the perfect finish for espresso blends. The natural Arabica, Drugar, is described as sweet with fruity notes and has a low acidity, whereas the washed Arabica has a rich full body, good aroma and well balanced citrus flavours.