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Farmers brew plan to make more from coffee beans

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
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Growing Uganda's coffee industry
  • Some Ugandan farmers want to roast, process coffee beans to add value
  • Uganda is Africa's second-largest coffee producer
  • Uganda investing in exporting coffee to China
  • In Africa, coffee consumption is estimated at less than 5% of annual production

(CNN) -- Uganda is Africa's second-largest coffee producer, but some of its farmers say they are getting a raw deal when it comes to profiting from their beans.

Hassan Kakooza has been a coffee farmer for 16 years. "Ugandan farmers, we are not happy, the coffee farmers we are not happy," he says. "Why? Because we are still colonized -- by the multinationals."

More than 90% of Uganda's beans are exported and little processed in the country.

Kakooza points out that he earns just under $2 for a kilogram of crushed beans, but when it is ready to drink the same amount fetches nearly $70.

"The end user is getting more than the one who is toiling with the garden," he says.

This strikes a chord with Michael Kijjambu, a Ugandan coffee roaster, who believes Uganda needs more control over the production process.

The end user is getting more than the one who is toiling with the garden.
--Hassan Kakooza, Ugandan coffee farmer

"To me it doesn't make sense that coffee grows here, transport it green (unroasted) and then roast it somewhere, create jobs somewhere, and develop a culture elsewhere," he says. "All that can be conveniently done here."

Kakooza has now joined a group of local farmers who want to oversee the whole process -- from growing the beans and roasting them, to the profitable end.

"We are aiming to see that we get machines so that we can start roasting our coffee from here," he says.

He explains the group has approached the Ugandan government for funding. In a recent budget plan, the Ugandan government said it would work with the country's banks in offering $37.5 million of low-interest loans to farmers by 2012.

Uganda has reason to be confident in its produce. Commodities trader Burju Patel explains that it is world-renowned for its Robusta beans -- which are found in most Italian and French coffees.

"The importance with Uganda is that they produce a premium blend of Robusta. It is the preferred blend," he says. "It is of a higher grade and it is what the roasters opt for when they are blending a cup of coffee."

The government is now setting its sights on a previously unexplored market -- China. It is investing $300,000 dollars to roast, package and sell Ugandan coffee in Beijing.

People still think that coffee is not for them. For them it is just to grow the coffee and export it for someone else to drink.
--Michael Kijjambu, Ugandan coffee roaster
  • Coffee
  • Uganda
  • Beijing
  • Beverages

But Kijjambu is unconvinced about plans to break into the Chinese market, where tea is king. "They thought a billion people -- they are going to sell a billion cups; they didn't think what it takes to turn that billion people into coffee drinkers," he says.

He believes that the focus should be directed at growing the coffee market at home.

In Africa, coffee consumption is currently estimated at less than 5% of annual production.

Kijjambu has now opened a coffee shop to encourage a culture of coffee drinking and to help Ugandans realize coffee does not always have to be destined for consumption in richer countries.

"People still think that coffee is not for them," he says. "For them it is just to grow the coffee and export it for someone else to drink."

But he acknowledges the industry faces other challenges. "Of course, the infrastructure, moving the coffee from the farm to the market, is still a very big challenge," he says.

"In the wet season trucks can't move and also if you look at investment in agriculture it's still very minimal."

But while Kakooza continues to pick coffee beans, he knows it will take more investment, ingenuity and hard work to go from planting a cash crop to reaping real economic rewards.