Mr Emmanuel Iyamulemye Niyibigira, the managing director of Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) has completed one year in office. In an interview with Dorothy Nakaweesi, he talks about how he intends to steer the presidential directive of Uganda achieving the 20 million bags of coffee exports.
How would you describe your first year at the helm of Uganda Coffee Development Authority?
It has been eventful and challenging. When I joined in October 2016, one of the tasks was the 20 million bags target that UCDA had set to achieve. This was a presidential directive through the Office of the Prime Minister in 2014.
Although there had been some engagements, some players were not sure that it was achievable because of dismal volumes that had been achieved from the 1990s where we were moving between 2.9 million bags which were cut down as a result of coffee wilt.
But through different engagements, we got a consultant who brought together different sectors from about 40 organisations. This is how we were able to build ideas which led us to the Coffee Road map that seeks to achieve nine objects such as creating demand and improving quality, among others. However, this remains a challenge because of low staffing and large spread of coffee growing.
How do you hope to meet the presidential directive of achieving the 20 million bags by 2020?
When the directive came in 2013, there was that time lag and there seemed to be little or no anxiety towards achieving it. That time lag could not allow us focus on 2020.
So when we launched the Coffee Road map recently, we informed the president that the target would not be achievable within the specified period. We told him we would realistically achieve the 20 million bags with an extension of 2025.
The time lines (of six-year gap) remain the same but to achieve this, we need to have the key players aligned and we have already drawn a blueprint of the road map.
We need to provide all actors with finances and other forms of support to achieve the targets.
Already, we have received support from the European Union by putting the road map in perspective.
We expect to hold a coffee conference this year where we shall introduce everybody to the road map to help them understand where we are and where we want to go.
Where does Uganda stand in terms of exporting ready to drink coffee?
Currently, majority of our exports are green coffee beans. Whereas the export volumes have gone up, value addition is still low. Although some companies have been processing and packaging coffee, the number is still low. But we have been engaging Indian investors who want to invest in soluble coffee. Through this, we shall have investors such as Nescafe. We have been engaging them at different levels through meetings with ministers and other government agencies. Their plan is to start this year in February. They have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Uganda Development Corporation and I believe they will be key players in the coffee business in the years to come.
As government, we are interested in partly investing in a soluble plant through the Uganda Development Corporation. Within UCDA, we have put in place a traceability system that assists us to know the farmers we are sourcing our coffee from.
We are also building a network through which we can reach farmer organisations to feed such a plan.
What are you doing to increase local coffee consumption?
Indeed, the numbers are low standing at about 6 per cent. However, through targeted plans, they are slowly increasing. For instance, we have launched the Domestic Coffee Consumption Strategy, which looks at various ways through which we can improve local coffee consumption. Currently, we are focusing on how to recruit youth and train barristers who understand the science and process of making good coffee.
We have also formed coffee clubs at universities, secondary and primaries schools to make young people understand the benefits of coffee with the view of recruiting them into the consumption curve.
We have also taken it to government offices by requesting all accounting officers to engage people involved in the cafeteria business to attain professional training from us. At least, the prime minister has already directed that 30 per cent of consumables in government office cafeterias should be locally made coffee. We have also brought in a researcher from Israel, who knows so much about coffee. Already, we have seen results given that we have had a number of advances in the last three years.
You were recently in China. The President has been emphasising how China would be an important partner in regards to Uganda’s coffee consumption. Have you made any progress in penetrating the world’s second largest market?
We have had good economic and political ties with China over the years with the President seeking for ways through which Uganda and China can have balanced trade.
About 13 years ago, the government signed a joint venture with a Chinese company covering Beijing and extending to Guangzhou. Through this, we sought to have our coffee into get known in China by operating cafes in different parts of the two cities.
This would be a great opportunity that would help us exhibit our coffee to different people who visit China.
Actually, Uganda was one of the first countries to open up a coffee promotion centre in China.
Secondly, we sought to use joint venture companies as a link up of Ugandan coffee to Chinese buyers.
During my recent trip, where I went with a delegation of six Ugandan exporters, we negotiated with the Ugandan Embassy there and they gave us a free booth where exporters sold their coffee while doing some promotions.
Apart from that, we held a series of meetings with Uganda’s ambassador to China, where we discussed how the embassy would directly assist to promote Uganda’s coffee roadmap, specifically with China that holds a large trading portfolio with Uganda.
Most Chinese companies that do business in Uganda are also involved in different businesses back home. Therefore, we can negotiate with them to consume our coffee, which might be key in creating a new market.
The deliberations were fruitful and we shall have a delegation coming to see how we can tap into China.
Much of the country’s urban population relies on tea as their main beverage but with aggressive marketing, we are convincing the young people to see the benefit of coffee.
The advantage we have is 80 per cent of our coffee is Robusta, which places us ahead of other countries in terms of quality.
This differentiates us from other coffee producers such as Vietnam and Brazil, which are some of the world’s largest coffee producers.
We are also focusing on other areas such as North Africa especially in Algeria, where we have already sent some of our staff to do some benchmarking.
Which are some of the unique challenges that you have encountered so far?
It has been around farmers’ preparedness. Farmers have been slow to respond to new proposals, which have in some way affected growth.
Secondly, climate change had a serious impact on Uganda’s coffee. The changing weather patterns have interrupted growth and discouraged farmers, especially those that cannot afford irrigation.