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Uganda: Growing Kampala’s coffee culture

By Jeff Mbanga in Kampala
Posted on Tuesday, 27 November 2012 15:47

The story of Uganda’s coffee, the country’s main traditional export, is well known.

It is told from the hilly ranges of Rwenzori in the west, where farmers toil to grow the crop, to the point where it is flown to Europe, processed, repackaged under a different name and brewed in homes and stylish cafes.

There is a new twist to that story though.

The process of cleaning up the beans, processing them and serving a frothy cup of espresso is taking root in Kampala.

As more coffee shops open, this is re-energising the concept of adding value to the country’s raw materials.

Endiro Coffee, located at Kisementi, a favourite hangout for tourists and Kampala’s expanding class of young urban professionals, is one example of the growing number of coffee shops in Kampala.

“We started [in June last year] with about 15-20 customers a day. Today, we get almost 200 people a day, and sometimes some customers come here and they don’t have anywhere to sit because it is usually packed,” says Samuel Tesfa, the manager at Endiro.

The cheapest cup of coffee at Endiro, an espresso, goes for USh5,000 ($2).

Growers hope that this growth in local demand could help Uganda’s branded coffee to have a prominent place on the shelves of global chains like Starbucks, where Ethiopian and Kenyan branded coffee command a respectable presence.

Francis Kisirinya, the director of finance at thePrivate Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), says that the institution is heavily engaged in supporting firms that want to build brands and design marketing strategies.

“Our aim is to help companies take advantage of the regional market. When they get stronger in Uganda, they can take over the region,” he says.

Proudly Uganda

Kisirinya, who is one of the key managers on the PSFU’s ‘Proudly Uganda’ campaign, says that the new cafes “support the backward linkages.

In the end, even farming communities benefit.” The PSFU, he said, has worked with Star Café and Good African Coffee – two of several coffee chains now dotted all over Kampala – to survey the prospects in Europe and to contact key marketing experts.

“We give them some contribution to- wards the cost of linking to international firms. Today, if you go to South Africa, youwillfindStarCafébrands,” he notes.

Good African Coffee now sells some of its brands in stores like Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose, all major supermar- kets in the United Kingdom.

The Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) at Makerere University is currently working with the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) to conduct a study of the country’s coffee value chain to help the government identify the gaps and see how to further exploit the international market.

Isaac Shinyekwa, a research fellow at EPRC, says that Uganda still has a lot to do for local consumption to bolster the sector.

“The marginal increase in local consumption is not substantial enough to support the industry,” he says.

According to him, the government should help to procure machinery to process beans locally so that farmers can focus on selling processed coffee abroad. Much of Uganda’s coffee – more than 90% – is currently exported.

The coffee industry faces the same kind of challenges experienced in the wider agriculture sector: the high cost of finance, a rickety infrastructure network and drastic weather changes, among others.

Current farmgate prices for coffee are between USh4,000 and USh5000 per kilogram, according to figures from the UCDA.

Tesfa, the Endiro Coffee manager, says that by the time he buys coffee from a processor, the price of a kilo has reached about USh25,000.

In June, coffee exports decreased to 275,057 60kg bags, worth $36.6m, according to the Ministry of Finance’s Performance of Economy Report.

That represents a 25.8% annual drop, which the report partly attributes to weak international demand.

The agriculture ministry created the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy and Investment Plan 2010/2011-2014/2015, which aims at fully commercialising the sector.

Its goals include the export of 4.5m bags of coffee in 2015, up from 2m bags during the 2011/2012 financial year●

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