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Uganda's coffee crop dilemma.

It is reported from Kawanda that Uganda's drive to switch to highyielding, fast-maturing clonal coffee could jeopardize efforts to diversify the country's economy.

Previously a coffee cultivar with four times the yield of ordinary Robusta bushes would have appeared to be the answer to a farmer's dream, but with world prices still languishing because of global oversupply, this dream is looking troubled.

Farmers are tempted to plant new clonal bushes which produce their first crop within about 18 months in preference to the ordinary Robusta bushes which take up to four years to mature after planting. Clonal Robusta produces berries the size of which is more in keeping with the larger Arabica type which produces mild, but costly coffee. Clonal Robusta's heavier beans, which can be twice the size of traditional coffee, fetch a higher price in the market than regular Robusta.

Research workers at Kawanda, Uganda's main agricultural research station have said that demand for clonal Robusta bushes far outstripped supply.

An average mature Robusta bush can bear about 5,000 cherries per season, while clonal Robusta can produce anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 depending upon the level of husbandry practiced. Clonal Robusta is more resistant to diseases including red blister disease--the most common scourge of Robusta bushes in Uganda.

However economists are concerned that the promotion of clonal Robusta will continue to increase the country's dependence on a single crop despite official government policy to diversify the economy away from coffee.

When the International Coffee Agreement's export quota system collapsed in mid-1989, coffee accounted for more than 90% of Uganda's export earnings. This collapse, which led to a worldwide glut and undermined international coffee prices, slashed Uganda's coffee earnings by 75% from more than USS 400 million in 1988 to USS 100 million in 1992.

In many other Robusta-growing countries, for example Cote d'Ivoire, farmers have been enjoying higher yields from clonal cultivars developed more than 20 years ago.

Clonal Robusta is vital to a USS 16 million European Community funded project to revamp Uganda's agricultural sector, which suffered along with everything else during years of turbulent rule and mismanagement under Presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote.
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Title Annotation:oversupply of coffee
Author:Kille, Turville
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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