Coffee Warming Up
Uganda's coffee industry, a key pillar of the economy, could be entirely wiped out in the next few decades if the local temperatures rise by just two degrees centigrade, according to one of the country's top climate scientists.
Phillip Gwage, the assistant commissioner in the Meteorology Department told Daily Monitor yesterday that the anticipated increase in temperatures, caused by global warming, will render the climatic conditions in nearly all of Uganda's coffee growing areas too hot to support the crop.
Coffee thrives in mildly warm and wet climate mainly found in the tropics. "Just a 2.5 degree spike in our temperatures is enough to cause a catastrophe for our coffee growing," Mr Gwage said. "This is only a projected scenario but it is within range of parameters of the expected climate changes."
Recently, a UN Panel on Climatic Change warned that the ongoing global warming crisis could see the earth's temperature shoot up by between 1.4 to 4 degrees Celsius over the next few decades if no radical measures are taken to cutback on carbon emissions.
This, in effect, makes the prediction of a 2 degrees rise in Uganda's temperatures almost certain, portending a dreadful impact for the country's agricultural sector.
Coffee is currently one of Uganda biggest exports, bringing into the country about $300 million per year. In Africa, Uganda is the second largest producer of coffee after Ethiopia and its Robusta variety is a favourite of American and European coffee merchants.
Much of the coffee in Uganda is grown in the central region, a region that has traditionally enjoyed abundant rains and rich soils. The warming of the earth which has lately come to the fore of world attention, is caused mainly by human activities that cause higher concentrations of green house gases in the atmosphere, UN panel said in a report released last month.
One of such activities that have ignited intense antipathy against the government is the degradation of the environment through cutting of trees and conversion of wetlands into agricultural fields. Tropical forests and wetland vegetation help absorb large quantities of carbondioxide, one of the gases said to be responsible for global warming.
Mr Gwage suggested that it was irrational to destroy the country's forests at a time when they appear to be the only bulwark against a potential environmental disaster. "I think we should be planting more forests but it is disturbing that we're reducing what we have," he said.
President Yoweri Museveni last year requested the National Forestry Authority to degazette Mabira, one of the only remaining natural forests, and give it to Mehta for sugar production.
His decision provoked criticism from environmentalists who argued that such a move would have terrible ramifications for climatic stability in Uganda and the East African region.
Executive Director of Uganda Coffee Development Authority Henry Ngabirano told Daily monitor yesterday that the moderate changes in climate patterns that have been experienced in Uganda have already had an impact on the nation's coffee output.
"For instance South Western Uganda used to produce large quantities of coffee but the increased dry spells have nearly made the place totally unsuitable for the crop," he said.
Also the national production levels have plummeted--as drought becomes prolonged and more frequent--declining from 400 to 350 million 60-kg bags.
Mr Ngabirano said his field people had noticed that temperatures in some of the coffee growing areas now peak at 32 degree Celsius, enough to scorch an entire coffee crop.