Uganda’s coffee has had challenges over time. However, the recent gains have been a result of targeted approaches such as distribution of free seedlings and the recently launched Electronic Single Window that has boosted both export volumes and farmer incomes, Othman Semakula writes.
The Uganda coffee story is one of resilience characterised by slumps that are subdued every time one of Uganda biggest foreign exchange earners recovers.
The impact of climate change, diseases and the shifting growth priorities have eaten into Uganda’s coffee production story, especially in the last one decade.
According to data from Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), coffee production started to experience intermittent volumes at the fold of the 90s, slightly recovering in the mid-2000s before mildly sliding back into instability.
However, current data indicates production and quality continue to move northwards by an average of 7 per cent per annum, which has boosted both exports and farmer incomes.
According to a UCDA report for the month of September, coffee exports between October 2016 and September 2017 fetched 4.61 million bags worth $545m (about Shs1.96 trillion). This is compared to about 3.32 million bags worth $326.7m (about Shs1.1 trillion) over the same period in the previous year.
The recovery, analysts believe, has been a result of sustained approaches that continue to point to the importance of coffee as a key revenue factor in Uganda’s economic trajectory.
According to Mr Ramathan Ggoobi, an economics lecturer at Makerere University Business School, the government has had programmes that seek to uplift coffee production volumes. Such programmes, he says, have targeted small holder farmers who continuously graduate into larger producers as their incomes improve.
“The volumes are benefiting from campaigns such as Operation Wealth Creation and Naads [that distributes free coffee seedlings] through which government has been able to engage small holder farmers,” Ggoobi says.
The growth, according to UCDA, has been supported by a strong performance of some coffee varieties, especially Robusta whose export volumes stood at 3.62 million bags with a net worth of $405.48m (Shs1.5 trillion).
Revenue from Arabica coffee
Arabica coffee fetched 0.99 million bags worth $139.99m (Shs508b).
The boom is equally attributed to deliberate trade facilitation initiatives such as the 2016 roll-out of the Uganda Electronic Single Window; a paperless platform that leverages on technology to facilitate private sector trade. The system allows electronic submission of information, documentations and processing of import, export and transit related trade documents plus requests; thus, reducing both time and costs involved in the clearance process.
In an email exchange recently, Ms Laura Walusimbi, the UCDA corporate communications manager, indicated that the current volumes are not by mistake but a deliberate plan that has stretched about three years since 2014.
“The 57.4 million coffee seedlings planted between 2013 and 2014 are starting to yield. This was almost triple the 19.6 million seedlings that were planted between 2012 and 2013,” she said, explaining the current northern movements of the coffee volumes.
However, she is also cognisant of other factors, key among them the Uganda Electronic Single Window, which according to the most recent August performance report had processed and cleared more than 12,000 coffee export permits.
According to Mr Tobias William Mutebi, the Uganda Electronic Single Window acting project manager, the portal has since its deployment and integration with UCDA systems enabled exporters to apply for certificates that are issued electronically and instantly.
When an exporter enters trade information, according to Mutebi, the system automatically submits copies to relevant authorities notifying them of the need to precisely facilitate the exporter without necessitating any form of delay.
“13,279 certificates have so far been received by URA successfully through the single window. 12,121 have been cleared through customs and written off by export declaration,” he says.
Doreen Rose Rweihangwe, the UCDA quality assurance manager, notes that although the single window is a new innovation, processing documents has been made faster.This, she says, has assisted them [UCDA] to capture more data in real time and seek for ways through which loopholes can be closed.
Currently, the window has been incorporated into the Uganda Revenue Authority system and the experience, Rweihangwe says, has been a seamless flow of work; thus, urging the ministry of Trade to expedite rollout of the platform to other trade regulatory agencies.
With the manual system, a trader usually spends about four days chasing [sic] clearance from different offices such as UCDA, clearing agent and customs unit. However, with the electronic single window, this process is now completed within one day,” she says.
The electronic single window is an initiative of Danida implemented by TradeMark East Africa, a trade support initiative that seeks to improve trade within East Africa.
According to Damali Ssali, the senior programme manager of TradeMark East Africa, the Uganda Electronic Single Window brings together more than 20 government ministries, departments and agencies to improve international trade.