THE multiplication of the Kituza R1-7 coffee varieties that are resistant to coffee wilt disease could put Uganda closer to the top notch of the leading coffee producers in the world.
Uganda is currently the worldâ€™s fourth biggest coffee producer after Brazil, Columbia, Vietnam with coffee exports accounting for close to 60% of our foreign exchange earnings.
However, the coffee wilt disease that struck the country in early 1990s hit the coffee industry badly.
The decline in Uganda coffee output made countries like Vietnam to increase their production to fill the vacuum. In early 1993/94s, Uganda was producing 3.14m bags of coffee a year, above Vietnamâ€™s 3.02m bags. Vietnam now produces about 20 million bags against Ugandaâ€™s 2.8m bags.
If Uganda met the current farmersâ€™ demand of 200 million plantlets, the country would be in a position to push coffee output to 4m bags by 2015. The Coffee Research Centre (COREC) in Kituza, Mukono has the capacity to raise enough coffee wilt resistant plantlets but is operating at just 10% due to financial constraints.
Since the 2009/10 financial year, the centre requested for about sh2.3b annually to carry out multiplication of the seven Robusta Coffee Wilt Disease (CWD) resistant varieties (Kituza R1 â€“ 7) but received minimal funding.
The CWD is caused by a fungus, Fusarium xylarioides and is a major problem for coffee farmers in Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
A 2002 survey by the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and CABI established that the CWD had wiped out 45% of the countryâ€™s coffee plantation or 200m coffee plants causing an estimated loss of $27m annually.
Since the seven varieties were released through the Variety Release Committee (VRC) in 2009, very few plantlets have been multiplied and distributed to the coffee nursery operators. The centre needed that money, initially, to buy laboratory equipment and materials like bioreactors (Ritas) to move faster. If the requested fund was released in a lump sum the centre has the capacity to increase the multiplication.
Right now, the centre is using both conventional and tissue culture (biotechnology) methods to multiply the seven CWD resistant clones but it is slower when the conventional way is followed.
Through conventional means, the centre is likely to generate less than 100 plantlets (CWD Kituza R1 â€“ 7) per year from each seedling as opposed to the tissue culture multiplication from which more than 3,000 plantlets can be generated per leaf.
Since more than 20 leaves can be got from a single plant, this would yield about 60,000 plantlets from one seedling a year. Initially, the centre had hoped to generate more than two million plantlets a year. Funds allowing, the centre would be able to get enough â€œfoundation seedâ€ of up to 4,000 mother gardens.
From these, every parish (village) would have a mother garden of their own for distribution. Using the conventional multiplication would not yield enough plantlets to meet the demand even in the next 10 years.
In 2010, Kituza R1-7 varieties were distributed to 12 mother gardens in; Masaka, Luweero, Mityana, Mukono, Kamuli, Ibanda, Kyenjojo and Bushenyi. They will take two-years to reach maturity stage for multiplication in order for farmers to get plantlets.
Mother gardens are supposed to be managed by private individuals who would take over the multiplication process.
The centre would then be free to tackle other new diseases and pests on the increase like coffee twig borer, which is destroying coffee in central Uganda.
It would also research on developing drought resistant or draught tolerant coffee for other parts of the country. The new varieties Kituza R1-7 and 10 to be released next year have the same agronomic management practices as the six clonal varieties which are already with farmers.
The demand for coffee worldwide is increasing at a rate not matched by production. It is an advantage that Uganda has to take up. Uganda has the best Robusta coffee in the whole world. The people, who trade in coffee, use Ugandaâ€™s coffee to blend other coffees. We should exploit this competitive advantage.
The new varieties have to be multiplied faster. We should also work on improving yield per acreage. An average Ugandan farmer produces about 600kg of coffee per hectare while a Vietnamese produces 2,000kg. Our clonal coffee can produce up to 4,000kg per hectare with improved management.
Dr. Africano Kangire, head, Coffee Research Centre (COREC),
Farm expert opinion: Increased funding can boost coffee production