Coffee in western uganda
The Rwenzori Mountain range lies to the west of Uganda, forming the border between Uganda and the DRC. These mountains straddle the equator, rising up to nearly 17,000 feet above sea level at their highest point. They are home to the Bukonzo people, of whom an estimated 1 million farm Arabica coffee organically in volcanic soils as high as 6,000 feet (2,000 meters). These farmers live on both the DRC and Ugandan side of the mountains, but the bulk of the coffee is suspect to come from the DRC side to the Ugandan side due to the ongoing conflict in the Kivus in DRC.
Traditionally, a coffee called Drugar (Dry Uganda Arabica), considered the cheapest, lowest quality Arabica coffee in the world, comes from these perfect growing conditions. This is due to the fact that in traditional Western Uganda supply chains, there is no incentive to maintain quality or trace the source of the coffee. Currently, the coffee is strip picked, and subsequently sold for a fraction of its potential value to middlemen that bulk it with inferior, low grade coffees and foreign materials to be sold in Kampala to large volume and low quality focused Export Companies for onward shipment all over the world.
These middlemen or “agents”, are usually businessman from within a geographic area, who buy coffee from other smaller agents or farmers, before mixing in inferior quality coffees and selling it for a profit to other agents down the supply chain or to an exporter. Unlike GLC, they provide little or no price information or technical assistance within the supply chain. These agents represent as much as 75% of all sourced coffees within Western Uganda, with a small agent trading around $ 1,000 per year in coffee and a large agent trading as much as $ 2 million annually.
The region’s supply chain can have multiple levels with as many as 8 agents between the farmer and the exporter, reducing the original price of the farmer’s coffee through each additional contact. In prior seasons, coffees exclusively sourced through Agent’s un-traceable sourcing channels was delivered at 150+ defects to GLC Kasese Store. In order to have a clean export grade quality coffee, GLC must further decrease the defects preparation (10 to 90 defects), losing a significant portion of the original coffee weight purchased, resulting in lower purchase price paid to farmers, higher cost of production and quality inconsistency. Coffees sourced under the GLC Sustainable Coffee Program, are coming in (prior to processing) at a range of between 10 – 100 defects, creating the desired quality, price and cost saving impact required for the long term sustainability of the supply chain.
The loss of revenue for the Ugandan economy from the broken coffee value chain in the Rwenzoris is almost incalculable. The result of these root problems is an increased export cost and vulnerable farmers who receive a shrunken percentage of the farm-to-exporter price, due to the high number of middle men and no knowledge of the true value of their cherries.