Coffee natural capital for environmental and livelihood sustainability in Uganda

Assessment and utilization of Uganda’s wild coffee species for livelihood improvement, coffee sector sustainability, and environmental protection.

Green coffee fruit on a branch
Project Leader

Dr Aaron Davis

Kew Team

Dr Aisyah Faruk


Makerere University, Kampala (Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology, College of Natural Sciences):

  • Prof. James Kalema
  • Biodiversity researchers (MSc students and field researchers)

National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), Kampala (Plant Genetic Resources Center):

  • Dr Catherine Kiwuka

Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd, Kampala (Volcafe Uganda):

  • Dr Anneke Fermont
  • David Tusasiibwe

Clifton Coffee, Bristol, UK:

  • Josh Clarke


Uganda’s coffee sector comprises around 1.7 million smallholder farmers and over 3.5 million people in related activities. Coffee generates c. 25% of the Uganda’s export earnings. As a major component of the economy, the sustainability of the sector in Uganda is paramount. Uganda is unique amongst the world’s coffee growing countries, being a major global producer and the natural home of three (of the four) highest priority coffee crop wild relatives: robusta (Coffea canephora), Liberica (C. liberica) and eugenioides (C. eugenioides) coffees. This natural capital has the potential to provide transformative solutions for sustainability of the Ugandan coffee sector. 

The aim of this project is to demonstrate the value of Uganda’s coffee natural capital, and the importance of Uganda’s forests as a storehouse of useful coffee genetic diversity. This will be achieved through field and laboratory research, and work with coffee farming communities in central Uganda. We aim to reveal the synergies between biodiversity, the ecosystem, climate change, and commercial coffee farming. 

The Team

The project team comprises two coffee scientists, a Ugandan biodiversity expert, a coffee sustainability specialist, a coffee agronomist, a plant conservation scientist, and a coffee buyer (quality evaluation, roasting and sensory analysis). Also engaged in the project are two biodiversity specialists (a botanist and zoologist) and a plant chemist. Amongst the project team we have capacity in GIS, genomics and climate change research.

Main activities

  • A detailed survey of Uganda’s wild coffee species (coffee natural capital), with a focus on the species Liberica, robusta and eugenioides and their hybrids
  • Community-based farm trials, agronomic assessment, and value chain appraisal for Liberica and eugenioides coffee
  • Demonstration of biodiversity value, ecosystem service provision, and agronomic attributes of Liberica coffee, including the potential for climate change resilience
  • Pre-breeding research for the development of a climate resilient neo-Arabica (C. canephora x C. eugenioides) for Uganda

Methods and approaches

We will be working across the wild and cultivated coffee landscape of Uganda. Laboratory work and commercial coffee evaluation will be undertaken in Uganda and the UK.

  • Data collection and field-survey of wild coffee populations, to include mapping, climate profiling, and national-level IUCN conservation assessments
  • Enrichment of ex-situ coffee collections in Uganda, for conservation and research purposes
  • Gathering of pre-breeding data for interspecies hybrids, with a focus on a climate resilient, commercially viable neo-Arabica (C. canephora x C. eugenioides)
  • Improvement of harvesting and processing for Liberica coffee, through provision of materials and training at selected locations 
  • Biodiversity assessment and measurement of ecosystem service provision for Liberica farming sites
  • Climate resiliency and agronomic assessment for Liberica coffee, including dedicated field trials
  • Assessment of eugenioides coffee as a high-value niche crop for forest-based communities, including field trials

Livelihoods, sustainability, and biodiversity conservation

This project will explore how Uganda’s coffee natural capital can be used to develop, diversify, and sustain coffee production in Uganda, to build climate change resilience at local and national levels. It will investigate the potential for income improvement, through higher value coffee crop species and hybrids, improved value chain relationships, and coffee crop diversification. We aim to provide additional motivation for the preservation of Uganda’s natural forests, via demonstration of the value of wild coffee resources (coffee natural capital).

Kew’s role in the project

Kew staff are part of the project team and are responsible for overall project management as well as monitoring and evaluation.

  • A critical survey of Uganda’s coffee wild coffee diversity (distribution, climate requirements, conservation assessments, uses and attributes)
  • Enhancement of a centralised, comprehensive ex situ collection of wild coffee diversity, in Uganda
  • Export of Ugandan Liberica coffee as proof-of-concept for the development of wild species as crop plants, including price premiums for farmers
  • Assessment of the agronomic performance for Liberica and eugenioides coffee
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem service provision assessments for Liberica coffee farming
  • Production of Ugandan Wild Coffee Resources Development Strategy, including information on the use of underutilized coffee crop species and interspecies hybrids, climate resiliency pathways, and conservation of wild coffee species and their habitats. 

Davis, A.P., Kiwuka, C., Faruk, A., Walubiri, M. J., Lumu, M., Mulumba, J.W., Heusinkveld, G.J. and Kalema, J. (2023). 

The wild coffee resources of Uganda: a precious heritage. 

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK). Pp. 44. 

Davis, A.P., Kiwuka, C., Faruk, A., Mulumba, J.W., Kalema, J. (2023

A review of the indigenous coffee resources of Uganda and their potential for coffee sector sustainability and development

Front. Plant Sci. 13

Davis, A.P., Kiwuka, C., Faruk, A., Waluibiri, M.J., Kalema, J. (2022)

The re-emergence of Liberica coffee as a major crop plant

Nature Plants volume 8, pages1322–1328