Coffee is a huge cash crop in Uganda, but most of it is grown on very small farms of less than 2 acres. And yet it somehow manages to support some 5 million people in that impoverished nation. Almost all of Uganda’s coffee goes to Europe, but that is starting to change. One U.S. company is working to bring Ugandan coffee into the U.S. while maintaining environmentally sensitive and financially responsible policies for impoverished, small-farm coffee growers in Uganda. According to Heifer International’s web site:
This coffee is a Social Responsibility Initiative promoted by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and Coffee Legends, to preserve the farmer’s livelihood through Beyond Fair Trade practices, to encourage sustainable use of the environment (an initiative of Heifer International) and to build Ugandan farmer equity brands by remitting back to farmer groups in Uganda a percentage of the retail price of the coffee to support community and social projects of their choice.
According to Heifer International’s Facebook page, the coffee is becoming available at Sam’s Clubs as a discount organic gourmet coffee. And while the goals appear to be laudable, Karoli Ssemogerere, writing from New York for Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor, notes that buying Uganda coffee will not be an easy sell for well-informed American consumers:
So as the Bahati Bill [or the Anti-Homosexuality Bill] publicity starts to fade — in Uganda many big things have a short shelf life — the American press continues to highlight the Bahati Bill as detailed last week. It comes at a time when Sam’s Club is carrying a major first for Uganda; Uganda Mountain Coffee- a blend of three of Uganda’s best coffee(s): Bugisu AA, Okoros, and Drugars grown by farmers in Mbale, Nebbi and Kasese.
In America, we have two forms of governance: The common public sector dominated by government and elected officials and the private sector dominated by markets, private enterprise and social groups. The latter rules for the most part.
The American public first receptive to the experiment — the coffee is carried in 75 stores in more than 20 states — starts to point out that the coffee is from Uganda where the government (never mind it is a private Bill) promise execution or life in prison for private sexual conduct.
American retailers have a host of legal exposure they contend with everyday for business decisions they make. One of the rules of thumb is to drop merchandise that riles consumers and increases its exposure. For the farmers, this will be a tragedy. In Nebbi, a small farmer coop made a 64 per cent premium over the general market price by shipping coffee to Wal Mart. How can this be arrested?