Uganda’s tea industry is the most important third export by value after coffee and fish. In 2015, it contributed $89.95m from the export of 58,000 metric tonnes. Tea exports have accounted for 3.6 per cent of total export earnings in the previous five years. Close to 80,000 farming households are involved in tea production. The area under tea production was estimated to be 41,152 hectares in 2015. Given its potential to generate export revenue, tea is earmarked among the 10 priority crops in the agricultural sector Development Strategy and Investment Plan (DSIP). The other crops are maize, coffee, beans, cassava, bananas, cotton, fruits, Irish potatoes, and rice. Tea experts forecast that if the industry continues unregulated, it will continue causing losses to producers. Ronald Kawooya, the leader of Tea Research and Development Program at Rwebitaba Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (ZARDI) in Fort Portal City, said stringent control is crucial to save the industry. Kawooya says there are structural challenges that need to be aligned properly to compete favourably with other producers, for instance, Kenya. In 2019, Kenya exported $1.13b in tea from 44.4MT.
Increased appetite Uganda has no stand-alone tea policy and regulatory authority to coordinate extension services, research, value addition and quality issues. The sub-sector derives its policies from the policy development network known as Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture. According to the Naads secretariat, there is an increased uptake of tea growing in Uganda. Following President Museveni’s Poverty Eradication campaigns in 2008. From 2015 to date, Naads has distributed close to 500 million tea seedlings to farmers while expanding in non-traditional growing areas of Nebbi and Zombo. The major challenge arises from the fact that the industry is mainly a private affair with tea estates producing 54 per cent of the tea while the smallholder tea growers contribute the rest. Kawooya explains that the neglect by the government has left tea estates to operate on their own accord. “There is limited supervision right from the nursery bed operators to quality issues,” Kawooya says. Another bottleneck arises from the fact that the extension services are limited. Tea research, for instance, is carried out at Rwebitaba with minimal staff. There is also limited room for expansion by the farmers which calls for more support to smallholder farmers especially in highland areas. But tea prices have been faltering without considerable consideration on the cost of production, the grade of the tea and a reasonable return to the tea farmer. Arthur Muguzi, the chairman of the Igara Growers Tea Factory says farmers and tea factories have not benefited from international trade because of several trade barriers. Ugandan tea is sold through auction at Mombasa. A kilogramme of fresh tea leaves is sold at Shs320 in Uganda including Shs100 for the pluckers. This is lower compared to the costs of production. Kawooya says that to ensure sustainability of the sector and continuous supply of high quality tea, a policy is necessary. “The low tea price is a threat to the livelihoods of more than 1,000,000 people who directly derive their livelihood from tea growing,” he says.
Need for control Since 2014, the government has been involved in discussions aimed at stipulating tea policies to boost the commodity. The policy framework in place, the Uganda Tea Authority Act 1974, is outdated and a fresh comprehensive tea policy is needed, according to Kawooya. He says that the private sector lacks the capacity to invest in capital intensive infrastructure in terms of machinery and paved roads. “The smallholder farmers face a big challenge in coping up and end up selling their tea to anyone who comes to buy. It is important for the government to invest in tea processing plants within tea growing areas to entice farmers,” Kawooya says. According to Khadija Nakakande, the head of communication and public relations at the Naads Secretariat, the government is constructing tea factories in Kabale and Kisoro. There is over concentration of processing facilities which leads to stiff competition for green leaf especially during the dry seasons. To establish a tea factory in Uganda, one is required by law to have at least 650 hectares of tea for a single line machine. But some companies fall short of that requirement. This leads to night tea hawking to obtain raw materials. “You cannot guarantee quality with tea hawking. If one factory rejects tea from a farmer, he can take it to another without any penalties,” Kawooya says. The tea seed system is also not managed properly as one can move seedlings from one place to another without any implications yet livestock movement requires permits. “There is no way you can control the diseases without tight controls on seedling movement. Quality starts from the nursery,” Kawooya says, explaining that there are nursery operators that use chemicals for seedlings. There are no local standards for tea processing, grading and bagging. Kawooya says this impedes attractive prices. Only three factories are listed by the Uganda Tea Development Agency as having obtained international certifications. Kayonza possesses the Rainforest Alliance certificate whereas Igara and Buhweju are in the final stages of acquiring the same. Key facts Since 2010, expansion of tea activities increased as part of the President’s poverty eradication campaign, and this led to the development of the tea strategy to expand tea production, processing and marketing. To effectively promote the production of the crop in the country, in the 2014/15 financial year the government handed the task of providing tea seedlings to Naads.
Source: The Monitor Uganda