Coffee makes up 95% of Uganda’s yearly national exports, providing a livlihood for an estimated 20% of the population. Uganda is one of the world’s largest Robusta producers. Robusta is indigenous to Uganda, and the country is home to one of the world’s oldest varieties of wild growing coffee plants, found in the country’s rainforests. Most Robusta is predominantly grown in the lower-lying regions across Uganda, at an altitude of around 1200 masl – relatively high by normal standards. An extensive clonal replanting programme has been implemented in recent years. Most Robusta is sun-dried although in recent years there have been improved attempts to reintroduce wet-processing.
In Uganda, smallholders intercrop their coffee trees with traditional food crops, usually utilizing shade trees such as bananas. In these self-sustaining conditions, coffee is left to grow naturally, flowering on average twice a year.
Arabica was introduced to Uganda from Ethiopia around 1900, with further varietals introduced throughout the following century from neighbouring Kenya, amongst other origins. Most Arabica is processed with the use of hand pulpers but attempts are under way to upgrade processing through the introduction of eco-friendly integrated pulping systems, that simultaneously remove both pulp and mucilage whilst using only small amounts of water, making them particularly suitable for use by smallholders.
Uganda also produces wet-processed Arabica, with virtually all grown by villagers on small plots. Coffees marketed as ‘Wugar’ (Washed Uganda Arabica) or ‘Drugar’ (Dry Uganda Arabica) are grown on mountains bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, along Uganda’s western border. The more demanded Bugisu is from the western slopes of Mount Elgon, and is another typically winy, fruit-toned African coffee, with elements in the flavour profile akin to a classic Kenyan coffee.
Mount Elgon lies in the eastern reaches of the country, straddling the border with Kenya. Judging by its enormous base, it is thought that Mount Elgon was once the tallest mountain in Africa. The coffee shambas extend up and down the cliff faces, making use of natural water gullies and forest cover to extract moisture from the soil. The Sipi Falls are one of the great natural features of the Elgon region where some of our coffee originates, with smallholder farms based between 1,600 and 1,900 metres. It is a steep and difficult terrain to traverse in the rainy seasons – often there are no roads, only dirt tracks that get washed away by the rains.