Coffee farmers in Uganda are protesting the decision by authorities not to renew the country’s membership to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) fearing they could lose premium markets for their beans but the government maintains it is negotiating better terms.
Uganda, which is currently Africa’s biggest coffee exporter, said recently that it will not renew its ICO membership over a series of “unreasonable articles” in the new two-year International Coffee Agreement issued to ICO member states.
The ICO is the main intergovernmental organisation that brings together coffee exporting and importing governments to tackle the challenges facing the world coffee sector through international cooperation.
The organisation’s members represent 98 percent of the world’s coffee production and 83 percent of world consumption.
Uganda’s decision has left local farmers worried of the consequences which may include loss of premium markets especially in Europe to where the country exports about 80 percent of its total coffee produced annually.
“Pulling out will automatically mean that our exports will drop in the next few years, and to us farmers, it means that traders will not be able to buy our coffee yet we expect a bumper harvest this year. The country will fall back on achieving its target of increasing coffee export volumes and in the end we all lose,” Steven Mutyaba, a farmer said.
Issues of concern
Uganda targets becoming the world’s third-largest exporter of coffee by 2025, by exporting about 20 million 60-kg bags, to put it behind Brazil (40.2 million bags and Vietnam (26.4 million bags.)
Some farmers vocal on the issue have reportedly been approached by government to stop talking about it in public.
Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) says the withdrawal was because the country wants some of the articles in the new agreement changed.
Uganda maintains that it needs unconditional market access that allows for export of value added coffee instead of just green beans currently provided for by the agreement.
This, authorities believe, will transfer more value to the farm gate through promotion of value addition and domestic coffee consumption. The country also accuses some importing countries of imposing tariffs and restrictions on imports of value -added coffee.
Uganda’s other concerns are the coffee price volatility, which it says is threatening the incomes of local farmers and sustainability of the coffee sector, unfair membership votes and contributions, and the increasing role of the private sector in the decision making of ICO among other issues.
“Uganda not joining the two-year extension of ICA 2007 will not affect coffee exports or trade in any way. This is because ICO does not regulate coffee trade,” the UCDA said.
Both Kampala and ICO have issued contradicting statements over the issuance of the organisation’s certificate of origin for exports. While ICO says it terminated Uganda’s right to issue the certificates, Uganda maintains it will continue issuing them voluntarily.
The ICO certificates of origin are imperative to ascertain full implementation of members’ quotas.