El Nino may cut coffee crop in Uganda, Africa’s biggest exporter – industry officials

El Nino may be the strongest since records began in 1950, and result in “severe” flooding in parts of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

THE evolving El Nino climate phenomenon may cut coffee output in Uganda, Africa’s biggest exporter, and neighbouring Kenya by bringing heavier rains to East Africa, industry officials said.

U.S. forecasters predict that El Nino, a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, may be the strongest since records began in 1950.

The system may bring torrential rains to parts of eastern Africa that could result in “severe” flooding in parts of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, the United Nations Humanitarian agency said Aug. 21.

Coffee-industry authorities in Uganda and Kenya said heavy rains may damage the crop this year. Funguses such as Coffee Berry Disease could become rampant because of excess rain, while farmers may struggle to keep up with weeding and pruning, said Grenville Kiplimo Melli, the interim coffee director at Kenya’s Coffee Directorate.

“There is concern because flowering could be destroyed,” Melli said by phone Aug. 28 from the capital, Nairobi. “The rains would also result in diseases for the crop.”

Biggest exporter

Uganda exported 3.02 million 60-kilogram (132-pound) bags of coffee between October and July, ranking the country as the world’s seventh-largest shipper of the beans.  Kenya shipped 616,000 bags in the period, the fourth-highest amount on the continent. Starbucks Corp., the biggest coffee-shop chain, said Aug. 31 it’s begun stocking single-origin Ugandan arabica beans from the eastern Mount Elgon region under the name “Sipi Falls.”

In Uganda, which grows mainly the robusta variety as well as arabica, the industry fears heavy rains may interfere with proper harvesting and drying of the crop, said David Muwonge, deputy executive director of the National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises.

Bushes blossom best after stress—several weeks without rain—followed by showers, he said by phone from the capital, Kampala.

The picking of Uganda’s main crop runs from October to February in the country’s central and eastern regions.

“It could have a negative impact on high-altitude arabica areas through landslides,” Henry Ngabirano, managing director of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, said in an interview in Kampala. “Whenever we have too much rain, it impacts on quality because of inadequate drying.”

Floods, landslides

Uganda’s picking season for arabica berries stretches from July to February, while the robusta harvest peaks between October and December.

Kenya’s meteorological department forecasts most parts of the nation will receive above-average rain that could cause floods and landslides during the October-December rainy season. The so-called “short rains” may keep falling well into January over coffee-growing regions around Mount Kenya, it said, a normally dry month when unhulled beans should be out drying in the sun.

“Farmers need to be aware of prevalence of disease due to high moisture levels that may cause post-harvest losses,” Peter Ambenje, acting director at Kenya Meteorological Dept., told reporters in Nairobi. “The onset of the rains may also interfere with harvesting,” he said, referring to the farming industry in general.

Tanzania’s coffee harvest may increase by 49% this year to 61,000 metric tons because of a higher crop cycle, said Primus Kimaryo, director of coffee quality at the Tanzania Coffee Board.

Production often follows a regular cycle of a lower crop followed by an increase, Kimaryo said.   “It will be a bumper harvest,” Kimaryo said by phone from the northern town of Moshi. “Tanzania’s coffee-producing regions will not be affected. Floods are forecast to hit the coastal areas, which don’t grow coffee.”

Tanzania shipped 601,000 bags of coffee in the October-to- July period, according to the International Coffee Organisation.


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