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The prolonged drought that has struck Mount Elgon zone and the neighboring districts of eastern Uganda is taking a toll on Arabica coffee plantations in the region.
The drought, according to coffee farmers, has shed off coffee buds, struck down flowers and withered coffee plants in the plantations.
The farmers said the old plants and the new plants they planted as prices of coffee parchment gained both on the local and international market last year, are drying up.
Anna Grace Namono, a coffee farmer in Bubyangu Sub County in Mbale district, eastern Uganda, told Xinhua in an interview on Thursday that despite efforts by farmers to mulch the coffee so as to retain some moisture in the soils, the drought is more persistent this year.
"I own three acres of Arabica coffee but all the buds that sprouted at the start of the month have either shed off or dried up on branches because of the drought.
"Even the fry crop remnants of red cherries from the main harvest season have been attacked by pests and diseases escalated by the drought," she said.
Coffee starts flowering in March and is harvested during the main season that stretches from September to February.
However, farmers continue harvesting the fry crop until May when the green cherries swarm branches.
During flowering, the crop requires adequate rainfall to aid the process and create conducive environment for pollinating agents such as bees.
Mt. Elgon zone, that covers the Arabica coffee producing districts of Mbale, Manafwa, Bulambuli, Bududa, Kween, Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Sironko, in eastern Uganda, produce 13,000 tons per annum, according to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), a Uganda government coffee regulatory organization.
Mathias Wetaka from Bufumbo Sub County in Mbale said the severe drought is likely to result into low yields.
"Last year, rains started in mid-February and intensified in March coinciding with the start of the budding.
"That is what coffee requires because the water aids smooth budding, flowering and fruition. With this drought, I don’t foresee reaping any harvest from my fields this season," Wetaka said.
Joseph Werikhe, the UCDA eastern regional coordinator confirmed that the drought had increased the existence of the antestia bugs that attacks the coffee flowers causing flower abortion, a condition where flowers fail to progress to fruition.
Werikhe added that volcanic soils in the coffee producing district were tired due to repeated use without soil conservation.
"Though we expect the coffee yields to drop this year, the factors combine both drought and infertile soils.
"We are telling farmers to use NPK 17 fertilizers to restore soil nutrients so as to boost yields," Werikhe said.
Coffee is one of Uganda’s main foreign exchange earners. UCDA statistics indicate that on a year-to-year basis, exports for the period (March 2011 – February 2012) totaled 3.2 million bags worth 478.8 million U.S. dollars comprising 2.48 million bags of Robusta and 0.72 million bags of Arabica.
By RONALD SSEKANDI AND YUAN QING
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