Uganda’s coffee story dates back to 1900. Today, this story is not complete without a mention of the role of research in coffee. Research is an enabler to sustainable increase in coffee production and productivity, which in turn improves the social and economic state of the coffee farmer.
The National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) is mandated to conduct basic and applied research for strategic nature and national importance on coffee and cocoa. NaCORI is home to the 10 Coffee Wilt Resistant varieties.
In 1993, a new coffee disease was reported in Mukono district, Central Uganda. The Coffee Wilt Disease (CWD) threw many farmers in panic because all the Robusta varieties were succumbing to the strange disease.
According to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) annual reports, the disease led to coffee export reduction from4.2 million 60kg bags of green beans in 1996/97 to 2.0 million bags in 2005/06, which translated into annual monetary loss of about USD 80-270 million.
The need for wilt-resistant varieties was critical for the survival of the coffee industry, and to sustain the livelihoods of about 1.7 million households, who directly depended on the coffee sub-sector.
In 1997 scientists at the Kituza-based, NaCORI, initiated a breeding programme to develop CWD-resistant Robusta coffee varieties of acceptable farm and market traits.
Research to combat coffee wilt disease:
Researchers started with understanding the disease spread and effects countrywide through intensive surveys. The findings were crucial for stakeholders’ sensitization and developing control strategies.
The researchers developed a CWD management package that emphasized cultural methods, including uprooting and burning infected coffee trees, limiting movement of infested plant materials, and sterilizing farm tools by flaming after working on an infected plant. A network of Government agencies, NGO’s and farmer organizations joined NaCORI in the nation-wide sensitization drive.
In 2009, COREC (now NaCORI) released seven CWD-resistant varieties named; Kituza Robusta 1 to 7 (KR1-KR7). UCDA, NARO, private sector and development partners embarked on multiplication and distribution of the CWD-resistant clones countrywide. Through these collaborations, over 2 million CWD-resistant seedlings were distributed countrywide starting with the most severely affected districts.
NARO with partners trained certified coffee nursery operators on how to multiply clean clones. The varieties have since proved effective and are now a favorite for over 90% of Robusta famers in Uganda and across borders.
Currently, NaCORI supplies about 50,000 CWD-resistant cuttings annually to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) to avail farmers. It has also provided starter materials to over 150 nursery operators in more than 40 Robusta coffee-growing districts.
In July 2017, NaCORI released three (3) more CWD-resistant varieties;NARO KR8, NARO KR9 and NARO KR10, to cater for the diverse ecological concerns in coffee-growing areas in the country. These varieties produce better yields — average yield of 3,719kg of hulled coffee beans per hectare per annum. They are resistant to CWD, leaf rust and red blister diseases. They have desired sensory tastes and relatively large bean sizes.
With support from UCDA, a modern bio-technology laboratory was built at NaCORI to enhance production of quality and clean planting materials using tissue culture tools.