Brewing Unequal Exchanges in Coffee: A Qualitative Investigation into the Consequences of the Java Trade in Rural Uganda


  • Kelly F. Austin Lehigh University



Coffee exports, ecologically unequal exchange, Uganda


This study represents a qualitative case study examining the broad impacts of coffee cultivation from a rural region in Eastern Uganda, the Bududa District. Over 20 interviews with coffee cultivators provide insights into how the coffee economy impacts gender relations, physical health, deforestation, and economic conditions. While there are some material benefits from cultivating and selling coffee beans, a lack of long-term economic stability for households and the consequences for the status of women, the health of the community, and the local environment calls into question the efficacy of coffee production as a viable development scheme that significantly enhances overall community well-being. This research hopes to bring attention to the mechanisms that enable broader unequal exchange relationships by focusing on the perspectives and experiences of growers in Bududa, Uganda, where a considerable amount of world coffee is grown and supplied to consumers in core nations. 

Author Biography

Kelly F. Austin, Lehigh University

Kelly F. Austin is an Assistant Professor at Lehigh University. Her work specializes in examining global inequalities in health, the environment, and gender. Austin also carries out fieldwork on malaria in rural Uganda. Her work has been published in a variety of outlets, including Social Forces, Social Problems, and World Development.


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How to Cite

Austin, K. F. (2017). Brewing Unequal Exchanges in Coffee: A Qualitative Investigation into the Consequences of the Java Trade in Rural Uganda. Journal of World-Systems Research, 23(2), 326–352.



Special Issue: Unequal Ecological Exchange