Coffee contributes about US$400 million of Uganda's total annual export revenue, directly or indirectly employing at least two million people. But coffee production, like other export crops in Uganda, is mainly rain-fed, making it vulnerable to climate variability.
"The economy of Uganda remains largely dependent on a few agro-commodities (coffee, tea, cotton), predominantly rain-fed and grown by smallholders with limited external inputs, making the country highly sensitive to climate risks," Julie Karami Dekens, the International Institute for Sustainable Development's (IISD) project manager for climate change and energy, told IRIN via email.
The six-month pilot project, which was launched on 5 April, is a collaboration between Uganda's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC), the local Makerere University and IISD.
The programme will explore climate vulnerabilities across the coffee value chain - the movement of coffee from farming to processing to marketing - with a view to expanding these assessments to other agricultural value chains. It reflects growing recognition that climate change will have far-reaching effects across the agricultural, administrative and economic sectors.
"Climate change is a multi-sector challenge, which calls for concerted efforts of not only the environment sector, but also the trade sector," Norman Ojamuge, MTIC senior commercial officer, told IRIN.
Value chain development
According to a recent government briefing on the project, value chain development is crucial to the growth of agricultural commodities. But limited work has been done to understand the impact of climate risks along the levels of value chains. The project hopes to help bridge this gap.
A separate 2013 study, Climate Risk Management for Sustainable Crop Production in Uganda, noted: "There is a need to understand how climate risks are distributed and transmitted (or not) among all the stakeholders of value chains (not just at production level) to identify solutions that benefit all actors along the value chain and opportunities for investments."
Incorporating climate change into agriculture will mean that "there will be a coherent and thorough integration of climate change adaptation and the associated disaster risk management agendas and structures. into sectoral and national strategies," said Betty Namwagala, the executive director of the Uganda Coffee Federation.
Climate risks facing coffee production in Uganda include the increased prevalence of pests and diseases. For example, coffee leaf rust has been reported in many arabica coffee growing areas, with the black twig borer pest emerging as a threat in robusta coffee growing areas.
Droughts and floods are also challenges.
"Water stress in the dry season affects the physiological activity of the arabica plant, causing a reduction in photosynthesis," explained Namwagala.
"Some farmers have lost their plantations and lives to landslides that are attributed to climate change. Areas that depend on rain-fed agriculture may sometimes require irrigation, and taking into consideration the nature of our producers, many have abandoned their farms since they cannot afford irrigation or access to sources of water that can support irrigation," she added.
"If climatic events, such as exceedingly high temperatures, occur during sensitive periods of the life of the crop, for example during flowering or fruit setting, then yields will be adversely affected, and particularly if accompanied by reduced rainfall, thereby reducing incomes of all sector players," she said.
David Mafabi, a coffee farmer in the eastern Uganda district of Mbale, said: "Coffee production depends on nature. We suffer if there is too much [rain] or drought. As a result of drought, coffee does not mature well, and the harvest will be disappointing."
Climate change can affect links further up the value chain, as well.
"More frequent or intense extreme weather events may deteriorate infrastructure such as storage facilities and roads, leading to reductions in crop quality and limited access to markets," said IISD's Dekens.
The management of these climate risks is key to development planning.
Uganda's development strategy relies heavily on exports - including coffee - to achieve the country's 'Vision 2040' national development plan that aims to transform the nation from a low-income country to a competitive upper-middle-income country with a per capita income of about $9,500.
At present, some of strategies being used to minimize the negative impacts of climate hazards on coffee production include the breeding and selection of more disease-resistant and drought-tolerant varieties. Through the UCDA, coffee farming is also being introduced into new areas, especially in northern Uganda, to boost production and to test potential growing locations.
Coffee farmers are also adopting best practices such as crop diversification, intercropping and agroforestry. Still, further support in managing climate risk is still needed.
According to IISD's Dekens, "Further studies are required assess the economic impacts of climate hazard[s] on coffee production. It is difficult to differentiate the costs associated with the impacts of climate risk on coffee production from that of other factors, such as reduced soil fertility and mismanagement, which also contribute to reduce coffee production in Uganda."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions