Legislators from the tea- growing areas of Kigezi, Tooro and Rwenzori have launched a campaign aimed at lobbying the government to set up a tea development authority.
According to the legislators, the authority will enforce the regulation of tea owners and factories’ activities to ensure they produce good-quality tea that can fetch reasonable prices.
The MPs also want the mandatory formation of cooperatives for tea growers which, they argue, will improve research and equip farmers with knowledge on how to improve its quality and its processing.
Speaking to journalists at parliament on Friday, Mwenge North MP Lawrence Akugizibwe said government has failed to come up with a scheme to guarantee loans for the farmers so that they can own their factories like is the case in Kenya. Akugizibwe explained that in Kenya, smallholder farmers own the whole tea value chain, right from the plantation to the export market in terms of management.
“In Kenya, there is no foreigner involvement in the whole tea chain like in [Uganda] which is predominantly-owned by foreigners. Farmers are getting discouraged from growing tea on a large scale since it does not pay dearly compared to other beverages like coffee,” he said.
Akugizibwe is one of the MPs who made a benchmarking trip as members on the committee on agriculture, trade and tourism at the international auction market of tea in Mombasa, Kenya on October 21, 2016.
Other MPs from the tea- growing districts, including Fred Tumuheirwe Turyamuhweza (Rujumbura) and Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkizi East, also housing state minister), said that while tea is vital for boosting incomes, little attention is paid to it, making it hard for tea farmers to benefit out of it.
WHY TEA AUTHORITY
The MPs are optimistic that with a tea authority in place, there will be production of quality tea which can compete favourably for market with that of other countries.
The MPs told The Observer that on their recent trip to Kenya, where they visited tea estates and factories, they found out that Ugandan tea fetches the lowest prices at the international auction market of tea in Mombasa.
“We visited the tea estates, the warehousing facilities in Kenya, the auction market, and we talked to their brokers. What we found is that the tea which is coming from Uganda first of all is of low quality,” Turyamuhweza stated.
“[It] means that either our soils have been depleted or need to be re-fertilized or the way we manage the picking and processing of tea is responsible for the low quality that we are selling on the international market,” he added.
Turyamuhweza urged the government to prioritise efforts to improve standards, including through reopening Kasunga Tea Training Institute in Kyenjojo.
“Government should revamp it so that people can always come and do research from there, test the clones of tea from there such that by the time they grow the tea, they know it will produce the best quality tea,” he said.
In Uganda, tea is mainly grown in Tooro, Rwenzori and Kigezi regions. Akugizibwe said most of the tea and tea factories in the Rwenzori region are owned by Indians but if the smallholder farmers could own the factories, then the tea sector would benefit the farmers more.
Baryomunsi said challenges such as delays from the gardens to the factories, electricity and others affect the quality of the tea to be processed.
“For our case in Kanungu, some of the reasons the quality of tea may not be meeting the standards is power supply interruptions to the extent that if the factories are running, power can just go off and most likely the interchange between the power, the generator and so forth could be affecting the tea being processed,” he said.
Baryomunsi said once government steps up efforts to improve quality, the challenges that currently disrupt the production of quality tea will be minimised.