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Coffee ambitions brewing in Uganda

By Nelson Kiva in Kampala, Uganda | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-17 10:09

Growers in African nation scale up export plans with China agreement

Ugandan coffee growers are gearing up to expand sales in the vital Chinese market after Beijing removed tariffs on a range of agricultural products from the African nation.

Boosted by the zero-tariff agreement between China and Uganda, which took effect on Dec 1, Uganda expects to export 100,000 metric tons of coffee to China every month this year, according to the country's trade ministry.

Cyprian Bangirana, a coffee grower from the southwestern district of Bushenyi, appealed to the Ugandan government to help farmers access cheap financing to maximize the benefits from the trade liberalization.

Bangirana said that he and other coffee growers in the area could produce 10,000 tons of processed coffee every year. His plantation covers 9 hectares with more than 1,000 coffee trees, each able to produce 3 kilograms of packed coffee, he said.

The preferential tariff treatment means zero tariffs apply to 98 percent of taxable goods exported from Uganda to China. Apart from coffee, other agricultural goods covered include cabbage, lettuce, mushrooms, beans, fish, milk, fruit and flowers.

In addition to Uganda, nine other least developed countries, including Afghanistan, Tanzania and Zambia, also saw 98 percent of their exported goods to China become tariff-free from the start of December.

Zhang Lizhong, the Chinese ambassador in Uganda, earlier said in a news conference in the capital Kampala that the zero-tariff agreement was among the outcomes of the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which was held in November 2021.

"The Chinese embassy in Uganda is willing to help the Ugandan business community to meet the market requirements and specifications and fully tap this advantage and development potential so as to upgrade China-Uganda trade and economic cooperation to new heights," Zhang said.

Joseph Nkandu, a coffee grower from the central district of Mpigi, said he and his peers are ready for the Chinese market and have what it takes to sustain that market.

"We are able to supply coffee throughout the year, some of the lower harvest seasons notwithstanding. It is just a matter of procurement and we store the coffee and then we keep shipping accordingly," he said, adding that he and many smaller farmers that he contacts are able to put on the market more than 40,000 tons of coffee annually.

Habib Mwebaze, a coffee farmer managing a 24-hectare plantation in Uganda's central district of Mubende, said the zero-tariff agreement with China will help boost prices.

"In the coffee sector, our farmers are always discouraged by constant price fluctuations, but the broadening market will result in more people embracing coffee farming and participating at different stages in the coffee value chain," he said.

To spur exports, Uganda has set up a coffee development plan. Its foreign exchange earnings from the exports are projected to hit $1.5 billion by 2025, boosting the livelihoods of over 1.8 million households.

Emmanuel Lyamulemye, executive director at the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, said the government's efforts to boost coffee production and exports have been paying off, pushing coffee earnings up and attracting more Ugandan households into coffee production.

"This has led to increased financing and investment and the attainment of a premium price for Ugandan coffee due to strong branding," he said.

Geraldine Ssali, the permanent secretary at Uganda's trade ministry, said she wants farmers and others engaged in the coffee value chain to sustain the Chinese market through steady supplies.

She described the securing of the China market as a golden opportunity for Uganda's coffee sector since China is a key global market.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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