Coffee Farming Facts in Uganda

The world’s best coffees are produced in East Africa, which is mainly known for its co-ops, which are often formed at some washing stations and some known wet mills. This is the birthplace of coffee beans.


The world’s best coffees are produced in East Africa, which is mainly known for its co-ops, which are often formed at some washing stations and some known wet mills. This is the birthplace of coffee beans.

In Uganda, coffee has been the most important cash crop throughout the years, making it the top export business earner since the 1980s. It has also specialized in the production of 2 types of coffee: Arabica, which is grown at high altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 2,300m above sea level, and Robusta, which is grown at lower altitudes ranging from 900 to 1,500m above sea level, making Ugandan coffee possess the best qualities due to its high altitude, soils, and farming systems that cannot be easily found elsewhere in the world. Arabica coffee only grows in a high-altitude area of south-eastern Uganda as well as in south-western Uganda.

Coffee is grown in five areas: the Central, Western, South-Western, Northern, and Eastern regions. The last one comprises the Busoga regions (Robusta) and the Mountain Elgon region (Arabica). The Northern Region comprises the Mid-North (Robusta) and North-Western regions (Arabica & Robusta). The South-western and Western regions produce both Robusta and Arabica. For Robusta, we have two varieties, known as the Nganda and the Erecta. High-yielding Clonal Robusta Coffee, which yields almost four times as much as traditional varieties, are being planted to replace old and diseased trees. For Arabica, there are a number of varieties: SL 28 (high altitude), SL 14 (medium altitude), KP 423 (medium), and the traditional Nyasaland grown in the Mountain Elgon region, Rwenzori Region, as well as in the mountains of Zeu in Zombo District.

Flowering Arabica Coffee
Flowering Arabica Coffee

Coffee is produced by an estimated 1.7 million small-plot coffee farmers from 108 districts. The altitude ranges from 800 to 1,400 meters above sea level for Robusta and 2,300 to 6,000 metres above sea level for Arabica. The high altitude, especially for Ugandan Robusta, makes it very unique and characterised by intrinsic quality characteristics and attributes. Sustainable and specialty coffees are being sold to niche markets at high premiums compared to conventional grades.

2020 see’s Uganda as Africa’s largest coffee exporter, overtaking Ethiopia as the continent’s largest coffee producer.

Robusta Coffee Production

Robusta coffee, which is made from the plant coffee canephora, mainly grows in the Lake Victoria Basin. It is known for low acidity and high bitterness in relation to coffee made from coffee arabica.  Arabica beans, which range between 200 and 800 meters above sea level, tend to grow at higher altitudes than those of Robusta. Its production is also more robust because it generates a greater amount of product per area than an arabica does, and the costs of harvesting its coffee beans are considerably lower than those of an arabica. Another advantage of the Robusta strain of the plant is its relative resilience to wilts and plant diseases, which makes it a less risky crop to rely on. Due to its high bitterness, it is examined as less popular on the global market in parallel to Arabica.

Robusta Coffee Plant
Robusta Coffee Plant

However, despite having an abundant crop that is resilient to disease, Robusta coffee is particularly adaptable to climate change. Studies project that a 2-degree Celsius increase in temperature can severely reduce the amount of coffee canephora that can grow in Uganda.

While Arabica was introduced at the beginning of the 1900’s, Robusta coffee is indigenous to the country and has been a part of Ugandan life forcenturies. The wild Robusta coffee variety still grows today in Uganda’s rain forests and was thought to be one of the most unusual examples of naturally occurring coffee trees anywhere in the world.

Mostly, Robusta is sun-dried, although in recent years there have been moderate attempts to reintroduce wet processing. These kinds of interventions are on-going today, which is under the aegis of the UCDA. In the early 1960’s, the Uganda coffee industry produced close to 25,000 tons of good-quality pulped and washed Robusta, but this segment vanished entirely during the monopoly years, together with the plantation sector that supported it. Today, there’s an estimation of about 500,000 small farms of varying sizes that grow at least some coffee.

Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta Coffee Beans

Uganda’s Robusta is native and has two types that are grown, namely the ‘Nganda’ and ‘Erecta’. An extensive clonal replanting program combines high-yielding clones of both varieties that are vegetative-propagated and self-sterile. The progenies are true to type and could retain their parental characteristics, wherein they are high-yielding, could mature faster, and produce a bigger bean with improved liquor characteristics. They also tend to have resistance to Coffee Leaf Rust Disease.

Uganda Robusta has an intrinsic quality that has always been excellent, as has the on-going replanting program, which is locally developed in a clonal material that is likely to result in a general revival of the country’s ability to supply goods, and neutral liquoring coffee. Robusta in Uganda is grown at relatively high altitudes, some as high as 1,500 meters, making these coffees especially attractive for the fast-growing espresso industry. However, the bulk of the Robusta can be used in the production of instant coffees and is an inexpensive filler for blends.

Arabica an Robusta Coffee Beans

Arabica Coffee Production

The Arabica coffee plant doesn’t like those harsh climates and it likes humidity but can’t handle frost. It prefers temperatures ranging between 15°C and 24°C, or equivalently, 59°F and 75°F, and likes to be grown in the shady parts.

It’s mainly grown at elevations of about 1,900+ feet, which is 600+ meters above sea level. Coffee beans like to be grown on those hillsides and mature at an estimated 7 years of age.

Medium Roast Arabica Beans
Medium Roast Arabica Beans

These plants (Arabica coffee plants) usually grow to around 9 to 12 meters in the wild. But when grown for commercial use, it can reach only about 5 meters tall but it is usually kept at a range of 2 meters to help with the harvesting.

These beans (which are actually known as seeds) are found inside of the berries that grow on those shrub-like plants. These berries are usually harvested when they are “cherry” or their color is deep-red/dark-purple, but there are usually 2 beans in each berry.

More like into blueberries, the fruit of the arabica coffee plant doesn’t ripen at the same time, and that’s when the berries are best picked by hand. If the berries are harvested before they are fully ripe, it will result in inferior coffee.

If the arabica coffee beans are removed from the berries, there is also a so-called “parchment coat” and a “silver skin” that have to be removed too.

Uganda’s 3 Arabic-Growing Regions

Uganda has always been famous for its Robusta coffee, an indigenous species that still grows wild in the country’s rainforests. Yet you’ll also find Arabica growing in three regions: Mount Elgon in the east, the Rwenzori Mountains in the southwest, and West Nile in the northwest. Each origin is unique, with different coffee profiles and production methods.

Rwenzori Mountains

Rwenzori, which is habitually known as the “mountains of the moon”, lies southwest of Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Coffee in Rwenzori is grown all over the slopes of the mountains at an estimation of 1,500 to 2,300 m.a.s.l. Volcanic, in which the soil is rich with nitrogen that creates a terroir that is well-suited to coffee. Also, Uganda produces perfectly wet-processed Arabica, with effectively all grown from those villagers on a small plot. Coffees that are marketed as ‘Wugar’ (Washed Uganda Arabica) or ‘Drugar’ (Dry Uganda Arabica) are grown on mountains encircling the Democratic Republic of Congo, alongside the border of western Uganda’s. The most demanded Bugisu is from the Kenyan border within the western slopes of Mount Elgon. Bugisu is usually a rougher version of Kenya with excellent potential that is typically winy, fruit-toned African coffee.

The most common process here is called Natural processing, but you may also find washed processing upon discovering it.

Mount Elgon

On the eastern border of Kenya lies Mount Elgon, which is also known as East Africa’s oldest volcano. Coffee farms perch on its sides, which are shaded by forests, and gain their vital moisture from a steep water gully.  Meanwhile, the harvest season is from June to December, and it is at lower altitudes; at higher altitudes, it doesn’t start until the month of July but will last until February.

Cherries are typically hand-picked on a specialty farm before being washed and processed. Although transporting the coffee may be difficult as it has steep terrain, sure-footed donkeys will be the best way to safely get from the farm until the mill.

On the western slopes of Mount Elgon, which can be found in the Bugisu region, it is particularly well-known for its fruity and wine-like coffees. Yet it still tastes sweet, just like citrusy coffees with notes of raisins and figs, which are from Gibuzali and Kapchorwa washing stations.

West Nile

The West Nile region lies in northwestern Uganda, with farms estimating from 1,300 and 1,600 m.a.s.l. Indigenous trees, such as the banyan tree, are mainly used as shade on multi-generational farms.

In this region, coffees are typically washed and processed, which is known for their citrus profiles.

Arabica Coffee in Uganda also Includes:

Bugisu coffee. This coffee is from the Bugisu region on the slopes of Mount Elgon in the Kapchorwa district, Uganda. The Bugisu region is named after the Bugisu people, who are commonly indigenous to this area. The coffee project “The Sipi Falls” was named after a trio of majestic waterfalls, which were established in 1999 to strengthen the quality of coffee production in that region and also to create a sustainable income for farmers.

Tasting Notes: A nice, clean, smooth, full-bodied cup. Mostly darker toned and along the chocolaty side. This cup is surprisingly clean, especially for the price. It is a good single-origin drinker but also works nicely as a blend base.

Roasting Notes: Good from medium to dark that is easy to roast. Medium roasts are delicate and a little sweeter, making them a good cup to sip on all day. Dark roast gets strong and thick with edgy chocolate and smoky tones—kind of like a super-clean Sumatra.The hard Arabica beans originating from Bugisu are a real treasure for that dark roast. In the eastern region of Uganda, which is Bugisu, the coffee there is grown at moderately high elevations (1,300 to 2,600 meters) on the slopes of Mount Elgon. Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa, sharing borders with Kenya, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

What’s So Special About Ugandan Coffee?

Uganda is the best location for coffee growing. In these past decades, the armed conflict has hurt this industry, mainly in the producing region of the West Nile in the ‘90s. But the country boasts richly fertile land, volcanic soil to the east and west, and heavy rainfall. Most parts of the country had two harvests: one from April to June and another from October to February.

In most places, farms could stand up to’ 2,300 m.a.s.l., with cooler temperatures resulting in more complex coffees. Small farms tend to be less than half the size of a hectare. Intercropping can provide good shade wherein the coffee can grow—also another element that creates cooler temperatures and effectively healthier plants.

The most common process is called washed processing, although you may also find some naturally processed coffees as well. Natural processed coffees can range from low-quality, as well as from defective beans, to high-quality, until specialty-grade ones.

The difference between robusta and arabica beans

Arabica and Robusta are two primary species of coffee beans, each with its own characteristics. Here are some key differences between them:

Taste and Flavor: Arabica beans are known for their smooth, mild flavor with a range of acidity levels depending on the region they are grown in. They often have hints of sweetness, fruitiness, and floral notes. Robusta beans, on the other hand, have a stronger, harsher taste, with a grain-like overtone and a nutty finish. They are also more bitter and less acidic than Arabica beans. Arabica coffee beans are not wholly sour, but when swallowed, they will have a bitter taste, which is called the aftertaste of coffee. As for Arabica, it has a sour taste. Robusta coffee has a characteristic bitter taste and a lighter aroma than Arabica. Especially Arabica after preparation has a beautiful scent.

Robusta Coffee
Robusta Coffee

Caffeine Content: Robusta beans contain almost double the amount of caffeine compared to Arabica beans. This higher caffeine content contributes to Robusta’s stronger and more bitter flavor profile. The caffeine content in Arabica coffee beans is only 1.5%, while this content in Robusta beans is very high: 2.5%. In terms of fat and sugar content: Arabica contains more than 60% fat and almost twice as much sugar as Robusta. This factor is the primary factor affecting the difference in taste between the two types of coffee.

Growing Conditions: Arabica beans are more delicate and require specific growing conditions to thrive. They are typically grown at higher altitudes in cooler climates with ample rainfall. Robusta beans, on the other hand, are hardier and can be grown at lower altitudes in warmer climates. They are also more resistant to pests and diseases. Arabica coffee shrubs are usually 2.5 – 4.5 meters tall, requiring temperatures between 15° and 24°C and an annual rainfall of about 1200 – 2200 mm/year. While Robusta grows slightly 4.5 – 6.5 m tall, it requires a higher temperature of 18° – 36°C and slightly more rainfall (2200 – 3000 mm/year) than Arabica. Arabica also typically yields lower yields than Robusta, which means higher costs in production

Bean Appearance: Arabica beans are slightly larger and have a more oval shape compared to the smaller, rounder Robusta beans. The colors of Arabica and Robusta are also very distinguishable when comparing them. At the same roasting temperature, the color of the two types of Arabica and Robusta has a marked difference. Arabica’s color is light brown, the brown color is slightly yellow, and the Robusta coffee is dark brown.the-difference-between-robusta-coffee-beans-and-arabica-beans

Price: Arabica beans are generally more expensive than Robusta beans due to their higher quality and more demanding growing conditions.

Cultivation: Arabica beans account for the majority of the world’s coffee production and are often considered the superior bean in terms of flavor and quality. Robusta beans are more commonly used in blends and instant coffee due to their lower cost and higher caffeine content.

In summary, Arabica beans are prized for their smooth, complex flavors and balanced acidity, while Robusta beans are valued for their strong, bitter flavor and higher caffeine content. Each type of bean has its own unique characteristics, making them suitable for different coffee preferences and brewing methods.

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