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Markets, gender, and climate-smart agriculture: three steps to success for Ugandan coffee farmers

By Caroline Asiimwe,Technical Manager – Markets and Value Chains

My recent visit to the coffee-growing districts of southwestern Uganda exposed me to the harsh realities of the diverse effects of climate change on smallholder coffee farming systems.

While driving across five districts to get from Kampala to Kanungu, where I was scheduled to visit with different people and organisations engaged in the coffee business, it was apparent that the dry season had taken a toll on the condition of coffee trees. Most of the coffee farms on the winding roads across some of the most beautiful landscapes I have come to love, were suffering from water and heat stress.

Being an agribusiness expert and active promoter of climate-smart agriculture, I could have proposed a range of simple technologies to reduce water stress and contribute to increasing tree cover and productivity. However, this was not the day I would be practising my extension and advisory skills.

I was there to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the coffee sector with government, cooperatives, farmers, and business owners.

A unifying thread running through all my conversations was a pressing need for innovations that drive creation of a resilient and prosperous coffee system. It’s clear there is no one easy solution.

An integrated approach is needed, encompassing supporting farmer cooperatives and agribusinesses to professionalise and engage with markets, gender and social inclusion, and climate-smart agriculture including agroforestry and livelihood diversification.


Coffee is Uganda’s priority commodity and plays a leading role in the livelihoods of many Ugandans, contributing 1.3% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It has contributed an average of 14% to the country’s foreign exchange earnings in the past 10 years. Over 90% of smallholder farmers in southwestern Uganda make a living from coffee.

According to Gordon Nkwanzibwe, the District Production Officer (DPO) in Kanungu district “Coffee is the leading income earner for over 50,000 households in the district with average sales of 3 billion UGX (857,140$) per week during the main season. This surpasses the total district budget of 47bn for the 2023/2024 financial year.”

Seasonality plays a big role in the production, marketing and pricing of coffee beans with coffee harvesting seasons varying across districts within a year because of differences in topography, soil texture, and rainfall distribution.

Coffee pricing is also influenced by quality, demand, foreign exchange rates and competition among buyers.

Recent investments by the government, NGOs including Farm Africa, coffee exporting companies, and other businesses in coffee have enabled smallholder farmers to effectively engage with coffee markets, contributing to significant improvements in their livelihoods. 

While global coffee markets and prices have been in favour of coffee farmers in the recent past, a move by key players such as the EU to implement a new regulation for a deforestation-free supply chain that took effect on 29 June 2023 may negatively affect access to markets for smallholder coffee farmers.

To be able to continue to engage with the export market, coffee farmers need support to access digital technologies for traceability, professionalisation of their producer organisations and evidence of deforestation-free production.

Like many women, Innocent Asiimwe, a 41-year-old female coffee farmer (pictured on the left of this photo) I met in Kanungu, previously held the perception that coffee farming was a prerogative of men. Land ownership is a major obstacle to women’s engagement in the coffee value chain as typically it is men who own the land, make decisions about how it is managed, and sell the coffee produced on it.

Thanks to Kanungu Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Society Limited (KACOFACO), a cooperative supported by Farm Africa from 2018 to 2021 to empower women and youth by facilitating access to land, inputs, technologies, markets, and finance, Innocent now owns 1.5 acres of coffee signed over to her by her husband through a voluntary intra-household land-user agreement.

Obed Twisingire, KACOFACO’s Manager, commented: “There are more women and youth involved in coffee marketing in the cooperative since we worked with Farm Africa to implement the Gender Action Learning System (PDF) that introduced the intra-household land-user agreement and family coffee business management.”

Board and management staff of KACOFACO with Farm Africa and LDC staff at their coffee bulking centre in Kihihi Kanungu district, south western Uganda

He went on to narrate the improvements that have been made in reducing the social and cultural biases and power relations that inhibited access to land and productive resources by women and youth and their active participation in decision-making and benefits sharing.

Innocent now prides herself in ownership of a coffee farm and is motivated to apply sustainable agricultural practices that have led to a significant increase in the productivity of her coffee. She proudly told us that she sold 1,650 kg of FAQ through KACOFACO in season 2 of 2022 and season 1 of 2023.


Like other coffee-growing regions in Uganda, the right weather conditions that favour productive small-scale agricultural systems in southwestern Uganda have not prevailed. Climate impacts have constrained production with adverse effects such as heavy rainfall that leads to mudslides in the hilly landscape typical of the region, and longer dry spells between seasons that lead to water and heat stress.

Conventional farming practices that encourage mono-cropping, heavy reliance on chemicals, and land expansion that leads to deforestation continue to place further stress on the dwindling natural resources and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

To reverse this damage, a more inclusive and sustainable approach for the intensification of coffee production must be adopted that is not driven solely by profit, but also by outcomes that favour the planet. Farm Africa’s booklet Sustainable coffee production in Kanungu, Uganda (PDF file) offers guidance to coffee farmers on how to produce coffee in an environmentally sustainable way.


Suzanne Ekyasiimire (pictured on the left of this photo) was the best example of a coffee farmer I met who pulled together all the elements required for prosperity. She practises environmental stewardship and is reaping the benefits of a sustainable coffee production system.

Suzanne, who hails from Kayonza sub-county in Kanungu district, has transitioned from being a typical modest coffee farmer to a successful model farmer promoting an integrated system of coffee, livestock, beekeeping, agroforestry, horticulture, and banana production.

I like to try new things. Embracing the land user agreement has saved me a lot of challenges. I wouldn’t be taking decisions to invest energy and my income on land that I don’t own. Owning two acres of land motivates me to plan, invest in and practise new and sustainable ways of achieving better results every time.

Suzanne Ekyasiimire


In 2019, she participated in a Farm Africa training of trainer’s programme on Global Good Agronomical Practices (GAP) focusing on climate-smart agriculture practices.  

For a period of three months, she was equipped with skills in terracing, agroforestry, use of livestock manure, and coffee stamping, and was advised to diversify the crops she produced to build her resilience. What she learnt, she put into practice and today she continues to train other farmers on what I think is a centre of excellence in her community.

As Suzanne explained, what enabled her to successfully deploy her new agricultural skills was the assurance of having land tenure and the adoption of a market-led approach to coffee production, highlighting the importance of considering markets and gender when supporting coffee farmers to thrive.

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