On a sunny morning, Nasir Masirah distributes free packages of processed coffee to farmers who sell coffee beans to his company for processing.
“I offer you this coffee so that you can taste your own products,” says Mutsasira, who buys coffee beans from 991 farmers in the mountainous terrain of Kapchorwa, Pullambuli, Mbale and Bododa.
Although generations of farmers here have been cultivating the highly coveted coffee, only a handful of them have had a cup of coffee from their beans.
Farmers grow coffee for commercial purposes and not for domestic consumption.
Uganda is one of Africa’s largest exporters of high-quality Arabica and Robusta coffee, but less than five percent of locally produced coffee is consumed in the country, says Mutsasira, who operates Sipi Hills Coffee in Mbale, Uganda’s Arabica coffee hub.
The latest statistics from the regulator, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), show that in 2021 the country exported 389,936.46 tons of coffee and generated $2.35 trillion ($627.18 million).
In April 2022, Italy was the largest importer of Ugandan coffee, with a market share of 33.12 percent, followed by Sudan with 14.59 percent, Germany with 13.41 percent, India with 7.71 percent, and the United States with 7.3 percent.
In the same month, African countries accounted for 23 percent of Uganda’s coffee exports, the main markets being Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Tanzania, South Africa, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya.
But while Uganda exports nearly 400 million kilograms of coffee annually, only about 1,4688,000 kilograms are consumed at home, according to UCDA statistics. Although 88 coffee export companies are registered in the country, only 20 Ugandan brands are available on local supermarket shelves.
Joel Kaburu, who runs Uganda Coffee Tours, a company that organizes coffee tours and processes coffee for local and international tourists to buy souvenirs, is appalled that while many Ugandans avoid locally manufactured coffee, they end up buying imported brands at exorbitant prices.
“This popular coffee is made from screening, which is basically splintered coffee beans. Our locally produced coffee is much better quality but these international brands are good at marketing and branding.
On average, a Ugandan farmer sells a kilo of Arabica coffee at $10,000 ($2.66) and Robusta at $4,000 ($1.07). There are about 1.7 million households in Uganda that grow coffee.