Good Coffee Prices Bring Back Distraught Farmers In East Africa

Good Coffee Prices Bring Back Distraught Farmers In East Africa

After years of neglect and frustration from unscrupulous middlemen, resilient coffee farmers in East Africa are now enjoying the fruits of their labor as international price of the commodity sour on global market, even enticing growers that had abandoned cultivation of the colonial era cash crop.

The price of a kilogram of robusta coffee, the cheaper variety used in instant coffee, has increased 17 percent in London, while the tastier and pricier Arabica have surged by more than 53 percent on concerns of a global shortfall caused by a historic drought in Brazil, the world’s largest grower, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“African farmers have a chance to seize this opportunity as the global [coffee] deficit continues to widen,” David Muwonge, deputy executive director at Uganda’s national coffee-farmers body (Nucafe), told The Wall Street Journal.

“But farmers need more support to access credit and inputs if they are to realize their full potential.”

Coffee prices started their steady climb in 2010 after several years of trading below $1 a pound and soared well over $2.50 a pound by 2012 as bad weather hit crops in Central America and Asia. They then fell back, to under $1. Now, global prices are back up to $2 a pound on concerns about tight supplies from the Brazilian drought.

This doubling of prices enticed many East African smallholder farmers in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda that are known for producing black Arabica coffee that is used to blend into other weaker brands from other markets.

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The Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) told The Wall Street Journal that farmers had revived thousands of acres of coffee plantations they had abandoned during the price rout in the prior years. This renewed interest has increased the country’s plantation by 8 percent to 350 million tree after 27 million new tree were planted in the last three years.

In Kenya, where farmers had abandoned coffee farming  and were quickly converting their land to real estates, the return to coffee farming has caused the value of land prices for investor seeking to develop properties in the suburbs of the Capital Nairobi to shoot up.

Coffee output from East Africa is now forecast to rise by about 18 percent to hit 14.5 million bags during the 2013-14 season and could rally further by 15 percent the following season, aided by acreage expansions and improved crop-husbandry methods, according to the African Fine Coffee Association.