Uganda’s coffee exports trumbled at their fastest in at least six years, and are on course for their biggest seasonal drop in a decade, undermined by a drought setback to robusta production.

Uganda, the world’s fifth ranked coffee exporter on US Department of Agriculture estimates, shipped 501,054 bags in August, according to the country’s coffee industry regulator.

That represented a 29% decline on the record 700,990 bags shipped in August last year – the largest year-on-year dip on available data going back to 2016-17.

It also renders August, which is often the top producing month, as in 2019 and 2021, as only a mid-ranker in 2021-22.

‘Characterised by drought’

The regulator, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), said the decrease in exports “was mainly attributed to lower yields” for a year “characterised by drought in most regions”.

“This led to a shorter main harvest season in Central and Eastern regions and also reduced harvests from Greater Masaka and South Western regions,” major areas for growing in particular robusta beans, which comprise the majority of Uganda’s output and exports.

Robusta coffee exports fell by 28% year on year to 456,271 bags, the weakest August performance since 2019.

‘On’ year

Arabica coffee exports dipped even faster in August, by 31% year on year to 44,783 bags – although this was near the end of a season which has proved overall positive for the bean, and is indeed an “on” year in the country’s cycle of alternate higher and lower arabica-producing years.

Production supported by initial dryness in its eastern highlands growing area which provoked a strong flowering period, but was followed by sufficient rains to allow cherries to set and develop.

Uganda’s arabica exports for the October-to-August period, the first 11 months of 2021-22, are running 47% up at 948,653 bags.

Robusta coffee exports, by contrast, are running 16.4% behind the year-ago pace at 4.40m bags,

‘Likely to draw down stocks’

The UCDA estimate that exports for September, the last month of 2021-22, would come in at about 450,000 bags – a forecast which, if realised, would leave total shipments for the year at some 5.8m bags.

That would, while Uganda’s second-best export performance, represent a fall of 11% from last season’s 6.50m-bag record – the largest pace of year-on-year decline since 2011-12.

UCDA said that, with the harvest period in the south west now reaching an end, and “affected by a dry spell”, merchants would rely on inventories to take exports even to 450,000 bags this month.

“Exporters are likely to draw down their stock levels to fulfil contractual obligations with the buyers,” the authority said.

Major importers of Ugandan coffee include European countries such as Italy, Germany and Belgium, plus more northern African destinations including Sudan and Tunisia, and China and Israel also ranking in the top 10.