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Scientists venture into drought-tolerant coffee

Lengthy dry spells, which have been atributed to climate change, are having serious effects on farmers’ livelihoods. Researchers are developing drought tolerant crops to help them cope.

Coffee farmers, whose yields have been affected by effects of climate change especially the lengthy dry spells that have hit sub Saharan Africa including Uganda, will soon have the option of growing the drought-tolerant coffee variety which scientists are currently working upon.

Crop scientists at the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), in Kituuza, Mukono, have been breeding improved coffee varieties, which include those resistant against the coffee wilt disease. They are currently venturing into breeding drought-tolerant varieties in a bid to save farmers who are harvesting poor yields as a result of the effects of climate change.

Survive drought stress
The head of the Coffee Research Institute (COREC) at Kituuza, Dr Africano Kangire, said his team has already began the research work on the drought-tolerant coffee variety using the conventional method, where they pick coffee plantlets at random and grow them under drought conditions.

Those varieties that survive the drought stress are selected for further multiplication and given out to farmers.

However, the team now wants to venture into breeding varieties that are in the wild especially those from Kibaale forest, in western Uganda, and those from Zoka forest, south of Amuru district in northern Uganda, because they have genes which are resistant to drought.

Dr Kangire was addressing stake holders in a recent consultative public dialogue at Makerere University School of Agricultural Sciences on the topic Threats posed by climate change on Uganda’s coffee and the mitigating factors.

“We have asked the National Forest Authority to protect these two forests from encroachers because we know both wild and indigenous coffee species that have resistance to drought are growing there. These are species we shall develop and multiply to give to farmers who are currently harvesting low yields as a result of effects of the changing climatic conditions”, he said.

Given to farmers
The team is set to start the research process later this year. They are going to harvest the coffee plantlets from the two forests, take them to the green house in Kituuza and subject them to hot weather conditions to ascertain its resistance to drought.

Those varieties which will be seen growing well under this condition will be multiplied and given to farmers.

He said with the increase of temperatures to two degrees Celsius, most areas in Uganda where farmers used to grow coffee will become extinct because farmers are now faced with more frequent drought, floods, pests and diseases and soil erosion as a result of climate change.

According to Dr Kangire, due to the increasing demand of Uganda’s Robusta coffee in the world market, his team apart from developing varieties which are resistant to these climate change effects is also sensitising farmers to intercrop coffee trees with banana plantlets.

This practice enriches the soil nutrient meaning both plants will resist pests and disease infection. Farmers have also been advised to use fertilisers as means of curbing some of these climate change effects.

This, he said, is management practice which will help improve farmers yields. Most farmers in eastern and central Uganda have resorted to this practice and are realising better yields.

The entrepreneurship manager of Uganda Coffee Farmers Organisation in Uganda, Mr Deus Nuwagaba said by the year 2050, there will be no trading in coffee if climate change effects affecting the plant are not addressed.

Variations in income
This he said is because these effects will cause reduced suitable production of the plant incapable of competing in the global market as well as poor returns of investment in the coffee sector by smallholder farmers leading to variations in their income.