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Coffee quality likely to drop as farmers struggle to offload unsold harvest


Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The quality of coffee from a lot of farmers will likely be compromised as many who failed to get buyers to take their produce decided to heap it in their homes.

This is according to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) managing director Emmanuel Ilamulemye, who spoke during an online meeting on the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis to farmers on Wednesday afternoon. He said that coffee markets have stagnated with disruptions from coronavirus measures affecting the farmers’ ability to reach markets.

This meant that farmers looked for the way to keep the produce for a long time. Their storage facilities are not well ventilated which can easily lead to quality to be compromised. Uganda’s coffee has previously been subjected to low prices at the global market because of its low quality. Ilamulemye said the authority also found “that many farmers could not attend to far-from-home coffee plantations.”

He added that the safety of far plantations was affected with farmers that had ripe coffee being stolen and some picked when it’s raw. Small scale farmers who used to transport their produce using boda bodas were unable to do so because they were not allowed to sit on it. “They could not trust boda boda riders to take their produce to buying centres,” he said.

While UCDA had delivered fertilizers to 34 cooperatives across the country to be distributed to farmers, the lockdown meant they were unable to move these from cooperative stores to individual farmers. Ilamulemye said: “The lockdown came when farmers had not received and missed timely application of fertilizers.”

In April, UCDA reports that coffee exports fell by more than 100,000 bags. The UCDA says “exports were to some extent affected by logistical issues due to the country’s lockdown.” Coffee dealers found it hard to move to farmers to collect more coffee. This forced them to draw down on their stocks in the midst of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the positive side, Ilamulemye said farmers who stay near their farms had extra labour from their children who were not at school.

Emmanuel Obuku, the general manager of the Agribusiness Development Centre, an agency that helps financial literacy for farmer organization says the lockdown had especially affected the pricing of three products: coffee, cocoa, and milk. All have seen their prices drop further due to disruptions.

For some farmers, the low prices and lockdown disruption means they have no capacity to pay their loans.

Kayondo Mugagga, a member of the Masaka Microfinance and Development Cooperative Trust Limited (MAMIDECOT), said before the COVID-19 pandemic, their cooperative had been running agricultural loans with Rabo Bank Foundation worth 1.2 billion Shillings.

“Now that the agricultural value chains have been disrupted due to the national lockdown, farmers who had obtained loans from MAMIDECOT cannot pay back promptly meaning the default rates are high,” he said.



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