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Uganda's Coffee Production Threatened By Coffee Wilt

Uganda is Africa’s second largest coffee producer, behind Ethiopia. Uganda became a major player in coffee production after political unrest in former top grower Ivory Coast disrupted coffee growing there. But, now coffee wilt disease is cutting Uganda’s coffee output and slashing its earnings.

Henry Ngabirano, the managing director of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, told VOA English to Africa reporter Douglas Mpuga that the threat of coffee wilt for Uganda’s coffee production is serious. “It (coffee wilt) has had a devastating effect in that more than fifty percent of the robusta (coffee) trees have been destroyed by this disease.”

He said farmers’ earnings have been affected, as has the country’s foreign exchange earnings. “The fact that we do not have any scientific cure yet means we have to breed for resistance. Scientists take long to respond to such issues (of emerging diseases). So really the impact is devastating.”

Ngabirano said the short-term response to coffee wilt must be proper farm management, which he said “seems to temporarily help in that all the plants that are still good do not succumb to the wilt as much as the weak ones. As a short-term measure, we are emphasizing good husbandry and good farm practices,” he said.

He said, “In addition to Uganda’s coffee being grown on small-scale holdings, it is also grown primarily by elderly people. These are easy to mobilize because they tend to listen to advice and they have a lot of attachment to their crops. The challenge is for them (elderly farmers) to implement what they have been told to do.”

Ngabirano said it is no longer possible to mobilize coffee farmers through cooperative unions because they were disbanded as a result of trade liberalization of the coffee sector. “We now have farm level organizations where we have farmer groups organizing around their common cause.”

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority was established by statute in 1994 after the liberalization of the coffee industry to promote and oversee the development of the coffee industry through research, quality assurance and improved marketing.