More than half of Uganda’s exports earnings come from agricultural products. Coffee alone, for example, accounted for 20% of the export earnings in 2017, surpassing gold by 5%. Traditionally, Uganda’s farmers have focused on coffee, tea, tobacco, and cotton, but in the last couple of decades the country’s production has started to diversify.
During the 90s, traditional products made up 82% of the agricultural exports. According to the IGC, that number was reduced to 62% in the next decade. Today, Uganda also exports fruits as well as seeds like chia, sesame, and sunflower seeds, many of which are grown following organic certification standards and sold for the local market, the East African Community and Europe.
During the beginning of the current pandemic, many countries suffered from supply chain issues. This affected, among others, the two biggest exporters of coffee Brazil and Vietnam, who weren’t able to satisfy the international demand. European importers had to look elsewhere, and found a reliable source of quality coffee grains in Uganda.
This also attracted the attention of international brands. Nestle, for example, has started to import coffee from Rwenzori, selling limited-edition capsules in the U.S. and U.K. In addition, Uganda has taken advantage of the East African Community Customs Union, which has become an important destination for many of its products. Noticing an increase in production was necessary, the government planted millions of trees around the country. Under these conditions, coffee shipments soared to 6.5 million bags in September of 2021, with Bloomberg reporting the highest numbers seen by the country in 30 years.
Coffee, however, isn’t the only product supporting the sector’s growth. Demand for organic agricultural products like chia, sesame and sunflower seeds have remained high despite the recent pandemic. This despite many companies having to move their plantations, trying to stay away from areas where the government’s Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) program for combatting malaria could cost farmers their organic certification.
Nevertheless, Uganda’s production capacity has not just remained resilient. It has become the fastest-growing agricultural sector in the world. Where everybody else stumbled, Uganda’s farming industry became more competitive and expanded.
Another reason for Uganda’s agricultural success may be that most of its population is dedicated, in one way or another, to the farming industry. Sadly, this has not always been accompanied by a well-nourished population. Our previous article on ‘Uganda: Let Us Focus on Nutrition Agriculture’ shows that malnutrition is still a serious problem in Uganda: not only does it affect children’s development, but tragically it’s also one of their main causes of death.
Understanding which crops have the best nutrients could contribute towards reducing malnourishment in the country. In order for farmers to learn and use this information, better educational resources are needed. This has been facilitated in part by creating international NGOs. Bridge Academy Uganda is a program that gives Ugandans the educational foundations needed to place better in national examinations and succeed. These foundations are becoming essential as the demand for skilled workers and researchers in the farming industry grows.
By taking advantage of increasing demands of organic products, supply chain issues in South America and Southeast Asia, free trade agreements with other East African countries, and close to 70% of the population being dedicated directly or indirectly to farming, Uganda has solidified its presence in the international agricultural market.
This has led to an increase in the demand for professionals and a growing interest from both local and international investors, as well as from government initiatives focused on making the local industry more competitive in relation to other countries. These indicators have been interpreted as a good sign for the future of Uganda’s economy, and as a potential blueprint to increase salaries and living conditions for most of this country’s citizens.