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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Don't Spill the Beans

After another wonderful breakfast at mubs, we went to Savannah coffee processing plant. After a brief discussion about cameras, as this seems to becoming a theme among a few of our visits, we began our tour of the facility. This facility is owned entirely by Ugandans, and supplied by the local farmers. The beans are grown all across the country, in the central area, where we are; it is the Robusta coffee that is grown. Western Uganda is one of the only places were both Robusta and Arabica beans can be grown. In addition this facility processes the local sorghum, wheat and barley.
This facility buys its coffee beans directly from the farmers, about ten thousand small farmers; the plant will buy as little as one kilogram provided it meets the standards necessary. The relationship between the plant and the farmers is a key part of the operations for the process, seeds are given to the farmers for planting every year and this relationship is this locations competitive advantage over other processing plants. Each and every bag of beans that enters the facility is tested for quality and contaminants and weighed before being processed.
The process starts with sorting by size, both for quality and foreign material, the larger beans get more coffee and therefore worth more money. As the beans continue through the process all of the rocks and dirt are removed. Once he beans are ‘clean’ they are dried to twelve percent moisture content from about twenty percent when the beans arrive. The beans now sorted by size are then sorted by color and then density; after about a sixty-day process the different results are packaged into sixty-kilo bags for shipping free-on-board to Kenya where they are shipped by the thirty to forty distributors to Europe, Asia, and America primarily.
Under the lense of sustainable development coffee production in Uganda hits all three areas, but focuses on economic the most. There are of course the obvious economic impacts directly tied to the process such as the farmers and plant facility workers, but there are aspects that are not quite so obvious. An example is the Ugandan coffee market, the facility we toured exports about ninety-nine point five percent of what it processes. Practically none is consumed locally, the coffee is available in most local markets as well as in restaurants, unlike America, however, I have only seen two coffee shops since we arrived. Knowing that Uganda used to be a British colony, tea is the drink of choice over coffee, and Ugandan tea is very good. From a person who does not drink nor really like coffee all that much, the coffee we had at the facility was rather good.

Is there room and a way for a primarily tea drinking nation to accept coffee as a daily drink? Is coffee production sustainable in a nation that does not consume it?


  1. While Uganda will probably never consume as much coffee as other countries, through marketing to the younger generation, it would be possible to increase the amount of coffee consumed. As long as the coffee production maintains it's quality at a fair price, other nations will continue to import Ugandan coffee beans. The income from coffee and it's economic impact should be forefront in the business plans of all companies involved in it's export.

    Grandpa and I enjoyed your report. Good job! Travel home safe.

  2. I have to admit that I am a lover of both coffee and tea...and coming from the US where both of these beverages are usually imported, I think that Uganda definitely has the ability to prosper from its production. After visiting the processing plant and hearing how it supports a wide range of small-scale Ugandan farmers without buying out farm land or crops for its own profit, I see the industry as fairly sustainable. I was even more shocked by the simplicity of some of the processing machinery, particularly the sifting table that accurately separated beans into three different types/qualities by simply angling the table at a particular degree. Connecting the production back to sustainability, I have to note the very high demand for coffee world-wide. With the proper structuring and marketing of their product line, I think that Ugandan coffee could hit US markets in the future. I would surely buy it!

  3. Great post Matthew! I concur with Erin. I am a big tea and coffee lover. I was speaking to the employees of Star Cafe inquiring why they thought that Ugandans were not big fans of tea despite their extensive productive. They said that is related back to colonialism influence, where Ugandans were told that coffee was bad for health-- especially females' health. This stigma still exists in culture, though coffee is becoming more and more popular. I think that more coffee marketing should be done to increase Uganda's consumption to create a staple drink out of such a cash crop. What also may help this popularity to rise is instead of exporting the beans to Kenya for packaging and the rest of the process, starting the rest of process here in Uganda to increase employment and probably excitement because not only would the beans be grown in Uganda but also a full product of Uganda. This could increase pride and excitement for coffee, thus increasing consumption and demand and revenue.

  4. I was really interested in your post, Matthew, because I am an avid coffee drinker. This morning, I had the pleasure of talking to a Ugandan, Robert, and one of our professors about coffee drinking in Uganda and the stigma attached to it. Apparently, because coffee was such a colonial drink introduced by the British prior to Ugandan independence, Ugandan people did not accept the drink. At the same time, they were told that coffee is bad for your skin and health, a view commonly held by many in the country today. Although that view is slowly disappearing, it is still very prevalent especially in rural areas, thus making it difficult for coffee companies to sell their products in Uganda.

    To answer your question about sustainability, I would have to currently say yes, coffee production can be reliable in a country that does not necessarily drink coffee often. As the stigma associated with drinking coffee disappears in Uganda, more and more individuals will begin to drink it thus boosting the coffee intake within the country. Until these views on drinking coffee disappear from society, I believe that relying on other countries for coffee export is sustainable. Because of America, Europe, and Asia's dependence on Uganda's coffee export, the product will continue to be in high demand. Where I foresee a problem regarding coffee production and sustainability is when companies will have to decide to support a more export-driven business or a more domestic business.

  5. I would have to start off by saying I am not a coffee or tea drinker and have actually not tried either in my lifetime. However, I have noticed an explosion of coffee shops near me in the US as well as the hangout, leisurely atmosphere associated with them. In Uganda, as Matthew pointed out there was no leisurely atmosphere let alone many coffee shops to host those activities. While the culture and colonization of Uganda has most people drinking tea I think that it is possible for coffee to eventually be drank by people in country sometime in the future. At this point 99.5% of all the coffee produced at Savannah is exported because there is a much greater market for it outside the country. With time though, I believe that educating the people in Uganda about the false stigmas associated with coffee and marketing the coffee in better ways will slowly increase the number of drinkers in Uganda. As for the sustainability, I think that at this point the plant is pretty sustainable because they utilize beans from local farmers and return them the shells of beans to be spread over the land and the fact that the market for coffee exports will always be there, however, I believe the sustainability can be increased by increasing the number of drinkers in country.

  6. I do believe that coffee production is sustainable in a nation that does not consume it; however I believe it would be a more sustainable practice if Uganda would increase its consumption. Coming from a place where coffee is so prevalent in our everyday lives it was strange to be in a culture that does not embrace this drink for all its wonderful qualities. Coffee is embraced in America and that is something I have grown used to. Caroline and I couldn’t even resist getting Starbucks in the Brussels airport!
    After our tour of the coffee processing plant and they ran out of coffee for purchase we had some down time. During this time I talked with one of the guys who worked at the stand that sold the beverages. I asked him why he thought the people of Uganda don’t drink coffee. He said that the stigma associated with coffee drinking is terrible, especially for women. He gave me examples of these stigmas, including lack of sexual desire and breast cancer. From what the man told me, there have been no real efforts to debunk these myths.
    I don’t think it would be easy to change the Ugandan people’s opinion of coffee consumption, especially when that would mean changing cultural tendencies. However, Uganda would benefit by consuming some of its own coffee by decreasing the loss in profit margin from expenses associated with exporting, such as tariffs, taxes, transport, etc. This economic benefit could result from a transition that would take a substantial amount of time.

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