Coffee wilt disease and coffee trade stability in Uganda

By Lee Pearson and Neil McRoberts


The FAO defines Food Security as the economic and physical

access to food. For many smallholder farmers, access to food comes partly from income generated from the sale of cash crops. There is a long running debate on whether cash crops should be promoted; we leave further exploration of that topic for a later date.  In this post, we offer some initial thoughts and data from the beginning of a project on how stakeholders within an agricultural supply chain for an important cash crop respond to pest risk and disease information in their decision making. Supported by a seed grant from the UC Davis Office of Outreach and International Programs the focus of the initial pilot project is on how Ugandan smallholder farmers have responded to Coffee Wilt Disease and the larger impacts it has had on market structure. This first post gives some background on coffee exports from Uganda.


For good or ill, as with many coffee producing countries, Uganda relies on the crop to generate much of its foreign exchange. It is a major activity for over one million smallholders—most of whom have fewer than 50 trees (CABI, 2009). The impact of various coffee diseases (the most prominent being Coffee Wilt Disease) is clear from the data on exports as well as personal accounts from the region.


Figure 1: Green Coffee Production from 1961 to 2011 (FAOStat data)


What explains the wild swings in yield and production of coffee for Uganda? What makes stability so difficult to achieve? There are no easy answers for these questions. Certainly many external forces (e.g. the global dynamics of the price of coffee, and regional weather are involved), but remember in the Ugandan coffee market total production is the result of the collective impacts from over a million of smallholder decision makers, deciding when to produce,

how to produce, who to sell to, and what to do when pests and diseases occur on their

small plots of land.


Uganda has historically made up a large portion of total East African exports of coffee: from a low of 15% of total East instagram viewer tracker African production in 1981, to a high of 41% in 1969.  There was some growth in coffee production in East Africa from the late 1970’s to the mid 1990’s, but the same period for Uganda was marked by moderate decline and volatility of year-on-year production (see Figure

1). This is especially unfortunate, given the context that global coffee production experienced a doubling in production over the past three decades. During that period, production in Eastern Africa did not make significant gains.


Figure 2: The changing nature of Eastern African exports of green coffee by decade (data: FAOStat)


Compared against its East African neighbours, Uganda has lost a large percentage of the export market share of coffee, with Ethiopia coming to dominate by export value (Figure 2). It is certainly not the case that these market dynamics are due to disease alone—Ethiopia grows more Arabica coffee and has tapped into a higher value market, for instance. However, we can see very clearly, when looking at the yield data over time, that something is causing large variations in Uganda’s yields of coffee (Figure 3).


Figure 3: Yields of coffee over time for Eastern African nations (data: FAOStat)


We hope to have a better understanding of the issue in the coming months and will be working with the Rural Agency for Sustainable Development (RASD), a local NGO near the Mukono District, to help us on our journey. We invite any thoughts, feedback, or experience you may have. Please get in touch (Click here for contact information).