Ugandan government has embarked on an ambitious project to distribute 300 million coffee free in a move aimed at doubling the current coffee production to over 7 million bags annually.
The initiative which is part of the government renewed effort in revolutionarizing agriculture through the programme dubbed Operation Wealth creation is aiming at improving family livelihoods and eradicating poverty. Coffee is one of the perennial crops that have capacity to sustain family livelihoods and improve the well being of a country.
According to Francis Chesang, the production manager at Uganda Coffee development Authority, A household can earn at least Ush10 million from a hectare of coffee annually and therefore this positions the crop high among the agents of wealth creation among farmers. In addition, coffee is number one foreign exchange earner for Uganda estimated at over $400 million and this therefore explains why the government is upping its efforts in increasing the production of the wonder bean.
The free coffee seedlings will be distributed in phases of 100 million seedlings per year for a period of three years. The distribution is supervised by UCDA together with district extension officers and army agricultural supervisors who took over from the debunked National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). The soldiers’ role is to ensure the smooth implementation of the agricultural projects initiated by the government through instilling transparency and discipline and eradicate corruption tendencies.
Currently, coffee growing in Uganda has deepened with over 82 districts adopting the crop. Masaka tops the list of the districts with highest output of the crop. The coffee seedlings being distributed by UCDA to farmers is sourced from the certified nursery operators who are established throughout the country. There are over 1450 certified nursery operators in Uganda with an average capacity ranging from 10000-1.5million seedlings. The seeds are supplied from UCDA to the operators freely and they in turn prepare them and sell them to the government at Ush300 per seedling. Each coffee nursery operator certified by UCDA according to Chesang will be given a chance to tap into this opportunity of supplying the seedlings to farmers.
Farmers seeking to benefit from the free coffee seedlings are identified or register through the district extension officers. For the small scale farmers, the extension officers together with nursery operators supply and supervise the planting of the seedlings while the large scale farmers collect their seedlings from UCDA headquarters.
The project aims to add 85000 hectares of land under coffee cultivation in Uganda annually. Chesang explained that these efforts will double the output as well the earnings from the crop. Coffee takes a long time to mature and therefore in the next 4-6 years, the estimate an additional $367million to the current $400million.
UCDA has distributed up to 36 million coffee seedlings this year alone, aiming to increase current production from 3.5 million coffee bags per year to 7 million. The UCDA Managing Director, Henry Ngabiranoin a recent interview noted that coffee exports by Uganda, Africa’s second-biggest grower, showed little change in 2014-15 compared with last season because coffee plants were recovering slowly from drought.
The country’s major coffee planting campaign started in 1994 to replace trees that were affected by the coffee wilt disease which destroyed at least 150 million trees. Coffee provides an important source of income to over 500,000 smallholder farmers who traditionally intercrop it with food crops, such as bananas, beans, groundnuts and shade trees. According to UCDA figures, nearly 6 million people depend on the coffee sector for direct and indirect employment.