Uganda used to be a world player in the coffee game — in fact, almost every home in Canada had Ugandan coffee with or without realizing it.
Agriculture makes up approximately 42 per cent of Uganda’s GDP and 80 per cent of employment. With the majority of the population living in rural communities, farming is a way of life and a means of survival. Individuals farm land for small Ugandan companies, who then sell the product to large corporations in Europe and North America.
By the mid-1990s, coffee took over as Uganda’s largest export commodity, surpassing both tobacco and cotton. In 1994, the Ugandan coffee industry earned a whopping US$457 million. But as the demand for coffee grew, individual rural farmers struggled to keep up, severely affecting them and their families.
Years of political instability combined with low resilience and traditional farming practices caused the collapse of Uganda’s economy. By 1998, major coffee corporations had developed new ways of storing beans that allowed them to buy in bulk when the price was low, hitting the country’s coffee empire hard.
When the millennium rolled around, coffee export prices fell by almost 70 per cent. Although the nation still produces coffee, other export commodities have taken its place.
Some major coffee corporations have turned away from buying Ugandan coffee due to the popularity of Arabica beans. While Uganda has typically only grown Robusta beans, the Arabica coffee industry is dominated by Ethiopia and Latin America. Robusta beans tend to have an acidic taste and although the plant is easier and cheaper to grow, the sweeter, milder taste of Arabica coffee is favoured by major corporations.
The declining coffee industry has had a significant effect on the lives of individual farmers in Uganda. In 2012, 19.4 per cent of the population was classified as impoverished — meaning they live on less than US$2 per day, with the majority living in rural areas.
The combination of hard-to-reach communities and a declining agricultural market has also had an impact on the education of future generations. Between 2009 and 2012, the gross enrollment of students in grades 11 and 12 was only 14.8 per cent. As students get older, enrollment rates decline — especially for females.
Beautiful World Canada, a Toronto-based charity, aims to combat the lack of young women in higher education by proving post-secondary school scholarships to girls in sub-Saharan Africa.
Find more information at www.beautifulworldcanada.org.