Uganda, Ethiopia In One Coffee Climate Boat

Uganda Ethiopia, in one climate coffee boat Uganda Ethiopia, in one climate coffee boat

By Boaz Opio

The democratic republic of Uganda and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, these two eastern African countries have a lot in common. Ethiopians believe human life presence started in their country—just like Ugandans. Though these folklores do not tell us when or how this coincidental theories come about, there’s a lot more 21st century similarities to explore and possibly learn from one another.

The most important and obvious similarity is about coffee. Ethiopia is the world’s Coffea arabica producer. Today, the country is the largest African producer of Arabica coffee and the fifth in the entire world.

Uganda is the second biggest producer in Africa. In both countries, coffee is the backbone of their economies.  

However, though 15 million Ethiopians depend on it for a living, it is already predicted that by the end of this century, increasing temperatures could make it impossible to grow coffee in about half of the country’s coffee-growing areas, according to a study published today in Nature Plants.

This is because Arabica coffee trees require mild temperatures to survive, ideally between 59 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate projections show that Ethiopia will generally become warmer and drier, and that means that 40 to 60 percent of areas where coffee is currently grown won’t be suitable to grow the beans, the study says. This means the two brothers will be the most affected if the impacts are not addressed early enough.

The same have provoked stimulus government action towards a climate resilience green economy strategy way back in 2011 as a framework for the new Ethiopia growth and transformation plan implementation between 2010-2025, to achieve the middle income economy by the end of 2025. 

According to Mr. Mulegeta Megist, the head of climate change affairs in the Ethiopian ministry of environment, the country learned that over 87% of emissions came from land related use such as deforestation and charcoal burning. However, Mr. Mulegeta says, “when we drew our strategies, we learnt that agricultural activities does not have to conflict with green growth and land use.”

The effects of climate change – higher temperatures and less rainfall – could take a toll on the countries’ ability to farm their treasured crop. In parts of Ethiopia, spring and summer rains have already declined by 15 percent to 20 percent since the 1970s.

While in Uganda, with over 80% of Ugandans dependent on rain-fed agriculture, which comprises over 60% of export earnings, with coffee exports as the biggest foreign exchange earner, erratic and unseasonal rainfall is already costing over US$60 million a year in crop losses.

Smallholder farmers who produce 90 of it could have their already vulnerable livelihoods made more vulnerable by climate change. Oxfam's 2014 research project interviewed coffee farmers in the Rwenzori Mountains and found that they are aware that the climate is changing and becoming less predictable, and have used various adaptation strategies. But for Arabica coffee, which can only be grown at high altitudes in Uganda, climate change and rising temperatures are likely to further restrict the areas in which it can be grown.

A top-quality harvest can fetch up to $1.5 per kilogram, but buyers will pay much less for a harvest including so-called "black beans," cherries picked before they were ripe. Some harvests may even be rejected if the buyer suspects the beans will return "sour, unpleasant coffee that tastes like urine," said Rajabu Kituku, a local manager of Great Lakes Coffee Ltd.

Other two big coffee players of Kenya and Tanzania though produce coffee in a considerable scale are not so much affected directly—not as much as Ethiopia and Uganda by the impacts of global warming. Tanzanian coffee production averages between 30-40,000 metric tons each year of which approximately 70% is Arabica and 30% is Robusta. Kenya, up to 47000 metric tons. In both countries, production grew between 1.7% to 3% in the past 5 years without decline, while Ethiopian production fluctuated in a percentage decline of 2.5 – 3%.

A coincidentally good climate for coffee, then, is what the two big players need to rise their Gross Domestic Products and improve the quality of people’s lives. This could come by learning from each other and implementing climate resilience policies applicable by small-holder coffee farmers dominating the two country’s planting.

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