Wakiso, Uganda — Coffee farmers are seeing a drop in their earnings due to disruptions in Uganda’s key coffee market. Nakajubi, a farmer who has been selling her coffee to the Central Coffee Farmers Association (CECOFA) for nearly 18 years, is concerned about her income this year. She expects to receive around 5,700 Ugandan shillings ($1.53 USD) per kilogram of dry coffee berries instead of the previous 7,000 shillings ($1.87 USD). According to Nakajubi, this change is attributed to the shrinking coffee market in Uganda, linked to the ongoing conflict in Sudan.
Nakajubi also relies on preharvest payments from her buyers, usually ranging from 1 million to 2 million shillings ($268 to $537 USD), to cover essential expenses and pay her farm workers. However, these preharvest payments have decreased by almost 50%, forcing her to reduce her workforce.
She is concerned that if the conflict persists and alternative markets are not found, this challenging situation may become permanent.
The conflict in Sudan, which began in April between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, has resulted in hundreds of casualties and the displacement of over 1.5 million people, both within and outside Sudan. In Uganda, it has led to decreased exports and reduced income for farmers, underscoring Sudan’s significance as a vital market for Ugandan coffee. Exporters are now exploring new markets to protect against future disruptions.
In 2022, Sudan was Africa’s largest buyer of Ugandan coffee, but market share declined from 17.66% in March to 10.59% in April, further dropping to 7.3% in May. Although market share improved in June and July, exporters are still grappling with the consequences of these fluctuations.
Buule Ronald, the executive director of CECOFA, notes that their buying capacity from farmers has decreased by 40%, and they are now storing excess coffee due to difficulties in selling it in larger volumes as before.
Deus Nuwagaba, the deputy executive director at the National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE), reports a reduction in coffee shipments to Sudan since April, leading to delays in payments for farmers.
Semakula Jude Tadeo, another farmer, has witnessed lower earnings and extended payment delays. He has resorted to taking loans for significant expenses like school fees.
While exporters consider redirecting their coffee to other markets, Sudan’s unique advantages, such as fewer middlemen and lower shipping costs, make it appealing. However, there are fewer quality and environmental requirements compared to Europe and America.
Emmanuel Lyamulenye Niyibigira, the executive director of the UCDA, believes that the situation is temporary and anticipates improvements in the coming weeks.
Buule is proactively seeking new markets, including the U.S., to expand his export company. He recognizes the importance of being prepared for future market challenges and believes that expansion can lead to higher coffee prices and increased income for farmers.
Nuwagaba’s company is also considering markets in Asia, Europe, and North America, with optimism despite expected challenges.
In the meantime, Nakajubi diversifies her income by growing crops like maize, matooke, and cassava for both personal consumption and sale, preparing for the possibility of her buyers finding new markets, which would prompt her to expand her coffee farm.