Uganda has been in the news a lot recently, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Yet again, misguided members of the Parliament of Uganda have introduced their anti-homosexuality bill, which threatens life in prison for those who are involved in certain types of homosexual practices. Promotion of or even failing to report homosexuality now risks punishment. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda (as is the case for over half of Africa’s countries), but this time around the penalties are stronger and it puts Uganda’s gay community in an even more dangerous place. For the details you’ll have no problem finding them on any major news outlet covering this story.
Our purpose here is to simply respond to the many of you who come to us asking “should I buy Ugandan coffee anymore?” Just yesterday I was walking through the aisle of a local supermarket here in New York and, upon seeing Ugandan beans for sale alongside a dozen other countries’ beans, a customer began to loudly urge the many around her to not touch those Ugandan beans, for they represent hate and a clear human rights abuse. I respect her position, but would also caution against that knee-jerk reaction, mainly because it punishes the wrong community. Ugandan coffee is exported through private enterprises, either owned by private Ugandan citizens or by international coffee exporting groups. The coffee industry in Uganda is not run by the government, in fact Uganda has one of the most liberalized agricultural economies in all of Africa. Ugandan smallholder farmers – millions of them – farm coffee on their family plots, then mill and export their beans either through their own cooperatives or through a private exporter. Sure the Ugandan government taxes profits of the coffee industry (as they should for any industry), but most actual export fees go right back to promotion of coffee quality on farms and in the mills, and to promotion of Ugandan coffee around the world (fees paid to the very respectable Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) is one example).
To make our position known to the Ugandan government Crop to Cup is a signer on a coffee industry petition against this bill. While President Museveni has already said that he will sign the bill – a clear human rights violation in our minds here at Crop to Cup – and even threats from Obama have not corrected Uganda’s course, we still feel it is our duty to communicate the risks that the bill brings to the Ugandan coffee industry. Surely a coffee consumer’s easiest decision would be to choose a country other than Uganda when reviewing the many options in a coffee shop, restaurant or supermarket. That carries huge risk for Uganda; coffee is currently the country’s most important export by value and volume. A bad name in the news is bad news for Uganda’s coffee industry.
If you are in any way related to the coffee or food industry please take a minute to review this coffee industry petition against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, and sign it if you feel strongly.
If you are looking for better ways to get involved than boycotting smallholder Ugandan family farmers, then here are a few ideas:
– contact and support St. Paul’s Foundation – they are closely involved with this issue in Uganda and elsewhere