The Ugandan government is spearheading a study to understand how climate change affects coffee production in the country. The goal is to help growers achieve resilience in the face of extreme or erratic weather and long-term climactic changes.
Coffee, along with tea and cotton, is one of Uganda’s largest exports. The Ugandan economy is largely dependent on agricultural commodities. These commodities are supported by predictable and frequent rains and grown by small farmers with limited inputs and resources. As a result of these factors, Uganda is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
According to the Uganda Coffee Development Agency, coffee production over the last 40 years has been subject to variability in climate, soil fertility, and management. Pests and diseases are and will continue to become more common: coffee leaf rust has affected Arabica coffee growing regions, and the black twig borer has affected Robusta coffee crops.
Coffee is also heavily dependent on adequate rain at the right times in its life cycle. Climate change affects coffee by disrupting weather patterns and causing droughts or floods. According to Betty Namwagala, executive director of the Uganda Coffee Federation, “Water stress in the dry season… causes a reduction in photosynthesis. If climactic events, such as 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.”
Climate change does not only affect the growth of the plant itself. Farmers are at risk of losing their coffee plantations, either to natural disaster or to economic forces. For example, if a rain-dependent coffee plantation experiences drought, irrigation is necessary to keep the plants alive. If the farmer cannot afford irrigation systems or does not have access to water, he may be forced to abandon the farm.
In the coming decades, Uganda hopes to transform itself from a low-income country to an upper-middle income country under the guidance of a national development plan called Vision 2040. Managing the ways that climate change affects coffee production will be key to the success of Vision 2040. Scientists and farmers have already begun working to develop drought- and disease-resistant coffee varieties. Coffee farming is expanding to new regions in order to increase production and test new growing locations.
The sixth-month study, initiated in partnership with Uganda’s Makarere University and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), will investigate various aspects of coffee production, including farming, processing, and transporting. The project reflects the understanding that climate change affects coffee production across all sectors.
Separating the agricultural and economic aspects of coffee production in Uganda is nearly impossible, as the country’s economy depends on the agricultural productivity of coffee-growing regions. Moving forward, Uganda’s climate change adaptation strategies should continue to focus on the entire coffee production industry, including environmental and economic inputs.