Harare — Uganda has assured its coffee farmers and exporters that their prized cash crop will still be in high demand in the international market despite the country pulling out from an important coffee pact.
Coffee farmers in Uganda are protesting the decision by authorities not to renew their membership to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO). They fear that they could lose premium markets – especially in Europe – to which the country exports about 80% of its total coffee produced, annually.
The government maintains it is negotiating better terms.
On February 17, 2022 the state-run Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), a national regulator of the coffee industry, announced that it had withdrawn from the International Coffee Agreement 2007, to protest what it called an unfair trading system in the international coffee market.
The coffee regulator protested the agreement, saying it had become incapable of addressing the challenges facing Uganda's coffee producers. Now it is pushing for Uganda's unconditional market access for exporting not only green beans but also processed coffee since selling value-added products can increase farmers' incomes.
But some importing countries have imposed additional tariffs and restrictions on the import of value-added coffee which has led to the authority calling for the removal of these barriers in their withdrawal statement.
"Uganda needs unconditional market access that allows for export of value-added coffee, not only green coffee," the UCDA said in a statement.
This, authorities believe, will transfer more value to the farm gate through promotion of value addition and domestic coffee consumption.
"The new coffee agreement should have increased focus on value addition with protracted programmes that aim at transferring value to the farm gate," the statement read.
In response to Uganda's withdrawal, the ICO says although there has been a chance to update and reform the current agreement, Ugandan representatives have not been actively participating in the process.
"In March 2019, the ICC, the highest decision-making body in the organisation, established a Working Group on the Future of the International Coffee Agreement (WGFA) to update and reform the current agreement. Participation in the WGFA is open to all ICO Members. Nevertheless, Ugandan representatives have not been actively participating in this process and have never submitted any proposal for change based on their vision and interest, nor on the issues raised in the UCDA statement of February 9, 2022," the ICO said in a statement.
The ICO is the main intergovernmental organisation for coffee, bringing together exporting and importing governments to tackle the challenges facing the world coffee sector through international cooperation. Its member governments represent 98% of world coffee production and 67% of world consumption.
Coffee output in Uganda has been rising in recent years on the back of aggressive planting programmes that have expanded acreage covered by the crop.