Families growing coffee in northern Uganda are wealthier than those depending on seasonal crops such as maize and groundnuts, a study has found.

The study, The potential of coffee to uplift people out of poverty in northern Uganda 2014, found that coffee-producing households were associated with lesser poverty incidences, at 21.7 per cent, as opposed to the non-coffee producing households with higher poverty incidence of 31.6 per cent

“Evidence from these data, therefore, indicates that coffee production has a strong poverty reduction effect at household level,” says the study, produced by a group of researchers at the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC).

Traditionally, northern Uganda is not known for growing coffee, which partly explains why it has often lagged behind its counterparts from the other regions, the study noted. Northern Uganda was affected by an insurgency for more than 20 years up to 2006 as government forces fought both the Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony rebel groups.

The study shows that families with coffee have more assets than those growing other crops.

“An improvement in the ownership of other household assets like bicycles and mobile phones by coffee farmers is observed both in the northern region, and at national level. When coffee producers are compared to non-coffee producers, results show that coffee producers are relatively better off in terms of welfare…,” says the report, which examined the potential contribution of coffee production towards poverty reduction in northern Uganda.

Specifically, it looks at direct welfare changes among coffee-farming households in mid-northern Uganda. The districts observed were: Apac, Lira, Nwoya, and Gulu. They were chosen because the Uganda Coffee Development Authority had focused on the area for the introduction of clonal coffee there.

The study looked at 1,634 farmers, of which 439 were coffee producers and 1,195 were non-coffee producers. Some 60 per cent of the coffee farmers said they had seen a direct increase in their welfare because of the crop.

Farmers growing coffee are likely to be wealthier than those depending on seasonal cropsThe study shows that 84 per cent of coffee farmers in northern Uganda are rural dwellers, indicating that expansion of coffee production has potential for rural poverty alleviation.

Also, some 75 per cent of coffee producers have attended formal schooling, implying that uptake of extension information and skills by coffee farmers is likely to be high.

All the coffee producers in northern Uganda own land, which is entirely under customary tenure system. On average, the farmers are aged 51 years. None of the coffee producers in the north reported use of fertilizers or herbicides/pesticides on their parcels.

“At the national level, 16 per cent and five per cent of the coffee producers reported use of fertilizers and herbicides on their parcels respectively,” the report says.

State Minister for Agriculture Vincent Ssempijja recently said coffee exports had stuck at a paltry three million bags annually, which he said government was committed to improve.

He said President Museveni had directed them to have 100 million coffee seedlings planted in the next three years to raise production to at least 10 million bags. Uganda’s average earning from coffee exports annually is $466m. This is less than what the country earns from tourism ($1.4bn in 2013) and diaspora remittances ($800m in 2013).

Last month, the US government advanced Shs 1.3bn to Uganda to boost smallholder coffee farmers in 22 districts. Among these districts, only Zombo, Lira and Apac are from northern Uganda. The rest of the beneficiaries are from western, central, and eastern regions.

The study recommends an increase in extension services and improved seedlings for the north.

amwesigwa@observer.ug

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