UGANDA used to be among the worldâ€™s leading producers of coffee. However, this enviable position has been greatly compromised by, among other things, the Coffee Wilt Disease (CWD) which attacked our crops in the early 90s.
This disease still afflicts our crops. By 2009, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) reported that the disease had reduced the countryâ€™s Robusta coffee plantations by 50% or 150 million trees, which has cost Uganda an estimated $500m over the past decade.
Today, we are bearing the brunt of poor planning and lack of viable strategies to boost the crop that once put our country on the map. Clearly one of the biggest challenges that have affected the growth of our coffee industry is limited support from the Government and other concerned authorities.
Currently farmers demand 200 million plantlets to boost coffee output in the next five or so years. But this demand is not being adequately met. Researchers and experts are trying hard to come up with lasting solutions but their efforts are being frustrated by poor funding.
For instance, the Coffee Research Centre (COREC) in Kituuza, Mukono, has the expertise to raise enough coffee wilt resistant plantlets but cannot do much because of lack of funding. Currently COREC is operating at just 10% because of poor funding.
Researchers lack laboratory equipment and other facilities needed to develop ground breaking findings in this area. As a result, researchers are relying on slow, conventional methods to mass produce disease-resistant varieties.
This costs not only valued time but also a lot of money.
There is need for concerted efforts to boost support for coffee production and processing in this country. Farmers need to be supported with financial aid and improved disease varieties and also equipped with modern farming techniques to enable them produce improved varieties.
But to do this, research into all these ideas has to be undertaken. We have the researchers, but they are not well facilitated to do a thorough job. Government and other stakeholders need to step up funding for research into this important field to enable experts come up with workable solutions.
Research centres need to be well equipped with materials, transport, remuneration and training opportunities to raise their ability to carry out ground breaking research.
Above all, measures should be taken to ensure accountability on the part of all stakeholders through frequent audits, follow up programmes and effective monitoring and evaluation. Only then shall we regain our place among the worldâ€™s leading coffee producers.
From the Editor: Step up support for coffee research