For a country renowned for its natural treasures and coffee production, a combination of the two could benefit both tourism and coffee stakeholders.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, I put together a research thesis about the potential for coffee tourism to provide meaningful additional revenues for coffee farmers in Uganda.
This was sparked by two ideas: Uganda’s recent uptick in coffee production – and their relative underperformance in tourism.
Overall coffee production in Uganda is trending upwards. Uganda’s exporting volumes and earnings have increased in terms of volume and total value since 2014. That increase – from 3.24 million 60-kg bags in 2014 to 5.36 million bags in 2020 – is a part of the Ugandan government’s plan to be producing 20 million bags annually by 2025-2030 and to improve livelihoods in 1.5 million households. This growth has also made Uganda the top exporting coffee country in Africa. As Uganda’s most important agricultural export, coffee contributes 19% of total national formal export value.
Tourism, on the other hand, has been trickier. Uganda is 128th in the world in the relative size of travel and tourism’s contribution to its GDP. In comparison with neighboring Kenya (ranked 71st) and Tanzania (ranked 89th), tourism in Uganda is under-developed. The modest size of the sector is seen in the labor force, where 6.7% of total national employment in 2018 was tourism-related jobs, as well as in tourists themselves, with 1.5 million international arrivals.
Furthermore, Uganda is not capitalizing on tourism in the same way as its neighbors. The total contribution of travel and tourism expenditures in Uganda amounted to 6.2% of GDP in 2019, which is less than neighbors like Rwanda (11.4% of GDP), Tanzania (10.7% of GDP), Kenya (8.2% of GDP), and Ethiopia (6.8% of GDP), but better than the Democratic Republic of Congo (1.9% of GDP). In Uganda, tourism’s economic impact falls short of the potential suggested by the resources and geographical similarities of its neighbors. Though leisure tourist spending makes up a high percentage of the overall visitor expenditure in Uganda (89%), they only make up 25% of Uganda’s tourist arrivals (about 126,000). This compares poorly to Kenya and Tanzania, where more than 75% of their total visitors travel for leisure. Uganda’s neighboring countries also receive between 3-6 times more European visitors, suggesting the limiting factor is the size of tourist flows to Uganda.
Given that tourists enjoy coffee activities while traveling in coffee-producing countries like Costa Rica and Colombia, could coffee tourism work in Uganda? And if so:
What is the potential for coffee tourism to be a tool for inclusive growth in Uganda?
In following this research question, I broke it down into four smaller sections:
- Does Uganda have the preconditions for successful coffee tourism demonstrated elsewhere?
- Are the actors required to develop a successful coffee tourism value chain in Uganda present and do they have the interest and capabilities to develop this product?
- If successful, could coffee tourism generate inclusive growth in Uganda?
- What are the prospects for successful coffee tourism in Uganda?
Answering each of these questions involved nearly 3 dozen interviews with stakeholders from Uganda, ranging from coffee farmers to the CEO of the Uganda Tourism Board, as well as a literature review about the state of coffee tourism around the world, and analysis from coffee farmer data.
Uganda Coffee Documentary
On our coffee tourism research trip to Uganda in October of 2021, we captured footage from coffee farms and plantations near Sipi Falls on the eastern border and outside Fort Portal in Uganda’s western regions.
This produced video highlights five interesting facts about coffee in Uganda, while also highlighting coffee tourism’s potential to help improve coffee farmers’ livelihoods.
The findings are revealed in a 60-page research thesis entitled Coffee With A Splash Of Tourism: The Potential For Coffee Tourism As A Tool For Inclusive Growth In Uganda.
Using qualitative interviews and document research, this study investigates the potential for coffee tourism as a tool for inclusive growth in Uganda. This work contributes to the body of knowledge around coffee tourism by filling a previously unexplored gap about Uganda as it relates to this type of tourism, exploring public and private stakeholder perspectives along the coffee and tourism value chains.