Arabica coffee farmers in Bugisu sub-region are laughing all the way to the bank following the record rise in farm gate prices from sh4,000-sh5000 to sh8,000 per kilo of dry berries.
“Coffee prices have been surprisingly good. Even the yields were not that bad because of the heavy rains that we received at the beginning of the year,” Mary Musoba, a farmer in Khabutola sub-county, Manafwa district, said.
The dealers in Mbale town are buying a kilo from the middlemen at sh8500-9,200.
This has caused an increase in cases of theft in plantations at night.
“I literally share my coffee with thieves. When I pick the coffee in the morning, thieves, especially young men in the village, go to my plantation as soon as l leave and continue from where I left. I have given up,” Musoba said
Unlike the farmers, the thieves pick both the ripe and raw (green) cherries, compromising the quality of the end product.
Coffee exporters have over the years complained about the bad quality of Ugandan coffee, to the extent that the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) started a campaign to teach farmers good post-harvest handling practices.
“The thieves pick everything, including the raw cherries because they do it at night. I am worried the price may drop because of the compromised quality,” Musoba said.
“In several cases, Police dogs had been used to track the culprits, but many times it is found that the thieves are relatives to the farmers.
We should guard our gardens but still ask our youth to desist from the vice.
I have personally employed someone to look after the garden, which comes at a cost,” Emma Bwayo, a youth councillor in Namisindwa district, said.
Currently, the C price – the benchmark price for commodity-grade Arabica coffee on the New York International Commodity Exchange — has risen from $2.3 per kilogramme to around $4.2. In July, it touched $4.5.
Data from UCDA indicates that the local price for Arabica is sh8,000- sh9,200.
The price rise has been attributed to the events in Brazil, the global leading producer of coffee, which posted the lowest yields in 12 years after most of the plantations were ruined by drought and extreme frost.
Observers said prices are likely to remain high because it will take Brazil about five years to replace the trees that were destroyed.
In Uganda, Arabica coffee is mostly grown in the Elgon sub-region. Most parts of the country produce robusta coffee, whose price has also risen by about 30% this year. Arabica production is 20% while robusta is 80%.