Ugandan coffee a hit in foreign markets but shunned at home

Wednesday June 22 2022
Uganda coffee.

Joel Kaburu, who runs Uganda Coffee Tours, packages coffee for tourists to buy as souvenirs. PHOTO | GILBERT MWIJUKE | NMG


On a sunny morning, Nasser Mutesasira distributes free packets of processed coffee to farmers who sell coffee beans to his company for processing.

“I’m giving you this coffee so that you can taste your own produce,” says Mutesasira, who buys coffee beans from 991 farmers in the hilly terrains of Kapchorwa, Bulambuli, Mbale and Bududa.

Even though generations of farmers here have been growing the much sought after Arabica coffee, only a handful have ever had a cup of coffee brewed from their beans.

The farmers grow coffee for commercial rather than domestic consumption.

Export earnings

Uganda is one of Africa’s biggest exporter of quality Arabica and Robusta coffee but less than five percent of the locally-produced coffee is consumed in the country, says Mutesasira, who runs Sipi Hills Coffee in Mbale, Uganda’s Arabica coffee hub.


Latest statistics from the regulator, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), show that in 2021, the country exported 389,936.46 tonnes of coffee and earned Ush2.35 trillion ($627.18 million).

In April 2022, Italy was the biggest importer of Uganda’s coffee, with a market share of 33.12 percent, followed by Sudan at 14.59 per cent, Germany at 13.41 per cent, India at 7.71 percent and the US at 7.3 percent.

In the same month, African countries accounted for 23 percent of Uganda’s coffee exports, with Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Tanzania, South Africa, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya as the main markets.

But while Uganda exports close to 400 million kilogrammes of coffee annually, only about 14,688,000kg is consumed at home, UCDA statistics show. Despite the 88 registered coffee export companies in the country, only 20 Ugandan brands are available on local supermarket shelves.

Joel Kaburu who runs Uganda Coffee Tours, a company that organises coffee tours and processes coffee for local and international tourists for souvenirs, is dismayed that while many Ugandans shun locally-processed coffee, they end up buying imported brands at exorbitant prices.

“These common coffees are made from the triage, which is basically the defected coffee beans. Our locally-produced coffee is of much better quality but these international brands are good at marketing and branding,” he says.

On average, a Ugandan farmer sells a kilo of Arabica coffee at Ush10,000 ($2.66) and Robusta at Ush4,000 ($1.07). There are about 1.7 million households in Uganda that grow coffee.