My cousins and I may soon be arrested! We are looking at a possible four months in an already-crowded Luzira, government spending money on us instead of us spending our money and contributing to national development.
If we don’t go to Luzira, government may fine us 48 currency points. A currency point is Shs 20,000. You see, sometime back, we decided to put to use approximately 30 acres of land in Mawogola after it had been lying idle for a few years.
We directly employ a couple of people on the farm and many others indirectly. Because Mawogola is a distance from Kampala where we live, we keep many people happy every time we drive to Mawogola. As far-fetched as it may sound, we keep the roast gonja guys at Lukaya in business.
This month is actually our first harvest and we have been very excited. That excitement turned into some bit of agony on Monday this week when we learnt that the government is sponsoring a bill in parliament that, if enacted, will require us to be licensed to grow coffee. And if we don’t meet the standards, we go to jail or pay a lot of money in fines.
I have never directly worked in government but I admire their thought processes. Who sits down in some country hotel for a retreat and comes up with such ridiculous bills?
It won’t only be my cousins and I to directly face jail time. My elderly father grows coffee on a number of acres in Buddu. He inherited the coffee farm from his uncle many decades ago and he has maintained it to this day. He actually plans to bequeath this farm to some of his children so that this family tradition is kept.
Yet this is a tradition that my family may lose if the bill becomes law as it is. But, most importantly, my father may not be able to look after himself. Although he was a civil servant at one stage, his pension is not enough to make him live the life he has chosen. Coffee, among other things, keeps him going.
There are two million households in Uganda that are potential inmates in our dilapidated prisons. Assuming that they are about seven people on average in a single household, the new bill is looking at directly affecting 14 million people. If you add people who benefit from the coffee value chain, you are talking about 50 per cent of Uganda’s population or even more.
There are issues in the coffee business, from middlemen who shortchange farmers, fake seedlings and fertilizers, and poor post-harvest handling.
However, they don’t need stringent regulation the bill is seeking to introduce. The bill will simply scare people away from growing coffee. Had this bill been law when we started growing coffee, we would probably have not ventured into it.
Uganda has an ambitious target of exporting 20 million bags of coffee by 2020, which it will obviously not meet. The new bill means that the country will never achieve the target. And let us be honest; the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) will not in a million years be able to enforce the law. They will struggle to register farmers, monitor post-harvest handling, and everything in between they are proposing to do. If I were them, I would do the easier part.
The UCDA’s best approach is to ensure that farmers are sensitized to tell a good seedling from a bad one, improve how they handle coffee for better results both in the garden and in the courtyard where the cherries are dried, and work with other agencies to ensure fake fertilizers aren’t on the market. They can, maybe, regulate the processors and exporters. The farmers only need guidance.
There is nobody who starts farming to make losses or even sell poor-quality coffee. There are underlying issues that lead to this that UCDA must address as mentioned earlier. Sensitization and awareness can help the country achieve its target. Threats of imprisonment won’t make our coffee better unless this is a sinister move to get people out of this lucrative sector.
The UCDA should spend its time rooting for coffee growing and proper processing systems. They should be lobbying for affordable coffee loans, insurance, and tax deductions rather than threatening farmers.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.