Uganda’s Coffee Journey: The Laboratory

Uganda has successively managed to maintain coffee as the main engine of the national economy, exporting on average four million 60-kg bags per year. This is a demonstration that coffee remains the most important crop in Uganda, the birthplace of Robusta coffee. Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) shows that farmers exported 6.49million 60 kg bags of coffee for the 2020/21 season compared to 5.36million 60kg bags in the 2019/2020 season. The farmers earned US$512.22million in the previous year.

The mission of Uganda Coffee Development Authority is to facilitate increase in quality coffee production, productivity, and consumption. The mandate of the Authority is to oversee the coffee industry by supporting research, promoting production, value addition & generic promotion, controlling the quality and improving the marketing of coffee in order to optimize foreign exchange earnings for the country and payments to farmers. The Vision of the Authority is, a sustainable coffee industry with high stakeholder value for social economic transformation.

In October 2015, President Museveni issued a directive the Coffee Authority through the ministry of Agriculture to accelerate coffee production from what was the current 3.5 million 60 kg bags to 20 million bags by 2020. To actualize the president’s directive, in December 2015, UCDA in collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit convened a stakeholders’ meeting in which an agenda for a Coffee Laboratory was agreed upon.

A team from GCIC led by its Director Ms. Marcella Karekye visited the UCDA-run Government Coffee laboratory which is under the Directorate of Quality and Regulatory services to understand the processes and operations.

The team learnt that the Directorate was mainly put in place to Issue certificates in respect of grade and quantity of coffee; Register organisations and bodies applying to market and sell coffee in accordance with specified guidelines; Certify all coffee exports, Liaise with the International Coffee Organization (ICO) and be responsible for the administration of stamps of the organization; Liaise with other international organizations and promote Uganda coffee on the world market and to also train technicians, coffee processors, quality controllers, baristas and brewers.

On a day to day basis, the directorate carries out inspection of coffee with the process starting with collecting of samples at at exporter factories which they then bring to the laboratory. The next step is establishing screen size and defect extent of the bean. Usually the exporter will have declared the screen size of their coffee, the lab’s analysis to ascertain whether what was declared is the case. The defects will be detected with a trained naked eye.

The next step is roasting in order to carry out cupping where the strength and flavor of the coffee is determined.

A form is filled out at every level by the person in charge of the process and grades basing on the given parameters or markers are awarded. The exporter is notified so that they can either remedy the problems detected or go ahead to load for export.

Doreen Rweihangwe, the Acting Director Quality and Regulatory Services ably gave the team the background and undertakings of this department, citing that the Coffee Lab identified nine key transformative initiatives that focus on putting Uganda on the path to achieving 20 million bags of coffee production per year by 2025.

She said that her department is responsible for enforcing coffee regulations at farmer, primary processors, exporters, roasters and café operators and inspects, analyses and certifies coffee exports.

Rweihangwe said that the key transformative initiatives aimed at increasing productivity hinge on three pillars which will catalyze the transformation of the coffee sector in Uganda namely; Demand and Value Addition, Production and Enablers.

She went ahead and stated that the three pillars aim at building structured demand through country to country deals, especially with China where they have an office that purposely markets Ugandan Coffee, Branding Ugandan coffee to drive demand and improve value by up to 15%, Supporting local coffee businesses for value addition, including primary processing and a soluble coffee plant, Strengthening farmer organizations and producer cooperatives to enhance commercialisation for smallholder farmers and ensuring broad access to extension,  inputs, finance and aggregation, Improving the quality of planting material (seeds and seedlings) through strengthened research and multiplication of improved varieties.

These laboratories were of recent recognized by Uganda National Bureau of Standards for competency in analysis and testing of coffee making them the first coffee laboratories in Uganda to get recognized against an international standard for laboratory quality management system to ISO 17025:2005.

The standard recognition was awarded to these laboratories because they demonstrated that their management and technical operations meet the international standard requirements.