Richard Mutebi, a coffee farmer in Uganda, was drying coffee beans in his backyard last month when a police truck made an abrupt stop in front of his roadside home.
What followed was a multiday stay in jail for the crime of spreading beans on the bare ground instead of upon a plastic tarpaulin.
Uganda, Africa’s top exporter, is resorting to tough measures in a drive to increase the quality of its coffee beans, boost exports and bring home a crucial source of foreign exchange.
“Coffee is a sensitive commodity. Farmers must follow guidelines to preserve quality,” said Apollo Kamugisha, a technical officer with the state-run Uganda Coffee Development Authority. “All police units have orders to arrest noncomplying farmers.”
The crackdown is a sign of how badly Uganda, a largely tea-drinking country that reserves most of its coffee for overseas markets, wants to boost export earnings.
Coffee shipments abroad make up a quarter of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, a particularly valuable source of hard currency, as the Ugandan shilling sank around 20% in value against the dollar in 2015. The local currency has largely remained flat this year, partly supported by strengthening coffee prices.
But the push to penalize coffee farmers who don’t comply with regulations is also part of a wider drive across Africa to tap into the world’s lucrative specialty-coffee market.
Two countries—Brazil and Vietnam—together produce just over half the world’s beans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Africa produces around 11% of the world’s coffee, and on price, the continent cannot compete.
Source: The Wall Street Jounal