Uganda’s coffee industry just gained another enemy.

To add to the dryness and the pests and ailments – root mealy bugs, coffee berry disease especially red blister disease and black coffee twig borer – which have depressed output this year, turmoil in implementing a government shake-up is sapping prospects for production ahead.

Yes, the country has enjoyed a return to “near-normal-to-normal rains that favoured coffee planting across many regions”.

But no, growers were unable to get on with the task because a lack of saplings to put in the ground.

“Unfortunately, not many farmers planted due to limited access to free coffee seedlings,” the Uganda Coffee Development Authority said.

This shortfall came “as a result of the changes in coffee distribution policy through the Parish Development Model”, which the government of President Yoweri Museveni has launched in an effort to tackle poverty by distributing investment through the country’s 10,600 parishes.

‘Insufficient funds’

According to the UCDA, 34,400 coffee “plantlets” were distributed for growing in northern Uganda.

However, not many made it into the ground, as the switch of the budget for procuring and distributing the seedlings to parish control “caused a lot of uncertainty on coffee plantlets distribution”, with local savings associations charged with holding the money “not yet verified and approved to distribute coffee seedlings”.

In short, the main cause of last month’s planting setback “was the insufficient funds to facilitate field operations”, the authority said.

Exports dip

If the UCDA seems surprisingly willing to spill the beans, well, it may have a grudge to bear.

It has lost control to the parishes control of funds for seedling procurement.

This does come at a time when the authority is struggling with its mandate to boost Uganda’s coffee performance, with exports for 2021-22, as ended last month, down by 9.9% to 5.85m bags, UCDA data on Wednesday showed.

Still, that did come in a period of weather setbacks – and followed two years of 20% plus growth.

It may be some while before Uganda sees that kind of expansion again, unless it can get its plantings programme in order.