14 Dec

Stakeholders from the tea sub-sector have this week reviewed the first draft of a tea policy that was put together under the auspices of the Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries ministry during the National Tea Conference in July. The policy is expected to extricate the cashcrop from the passivity and conformism that has condemned it to being Uganda’s third biggest agricultural export forex earner. The proposal has prompted a mixture of hope and promise from the stakeholders who are convinced that tea—whose growth spans a land surface of 35,000 of a possible 200,000 hectares in Uganda—can bring in more than the $100m it currently musters. To underscore the underwhelming measure of the cash crop’s impact, a study by Solidaridad—an international network organisation—indicates that Rwanda earns more ($96 million) from less tea tonnage (35 million kilogrammes) than Uganda ($80 million from 75 million kilogrammes of tea). While there are rich rewards in the tea policy being the product of an elaborate process, Mr Fred Bwino Kyakulaga, the junior Agriculture minister, this week suggested that more urgency be allocated to the fasttrack of the policy. This will take place as stakeholders look to smooth rough edges around key areas such as post-harvesting handling, processing and packaging as well as other standardisations.   Value-addition State actors say the recent move to transform the commercial contexts of Ugandan tea dovetail with President Museveni’s value-addition pet project. The leaf undoubtedly wins the battle for the throat in Uganda, with Uganda Tea Association’s pre-pandemic dataset indicating that just under 62 million cups of tea (using the standard metric portion of 250ml) were brewed locally per annum in 2017. The dataset captures a gradual increase, with a little more than 47 million cups swigged in Uganda in 2013. Globally, Euromonitor—a London-based market research company—put the “brewed volume” in 2013 at 290 billion litres of tea against 162 billions litres of coffee. While tea soundly wins the battle for the throat in Uganda as elsewhere, the money it rakes isn’t commensurate not least because much less tea than coffee is needed to make a cup. To vastly improve its domestic consumption figures, experts recommend that the leaf’s foodways diversify into non-tea teas. They add that the leaf should shake off its rather mundane tag of being a consistently dark and strongly flavoured liquor if it intends to financially boss the hot drinks industry. For now, the tea policy is sparing no effort to ensure that a profit is realised downstream from cultivation, in blending, packing and marketing. That Uganda is contemplating a gourmet tea service after luminaries like Peter Claver Ntakirutimana of the Garden Tea brand (who died on November 12, aged 86) showed that there is a place for high-grade speciality tea offers a measure of the distance the country has travelled since its introduction.   Historical roots There is evidence to suggest tea was introduced to Uganda from India in 1908. It, however, was not until 1924 that the first plantation was established in the country. The leaf was mainly grown for export to Britain as was the case with tea grown in India. It didn’t take long for the lives of a section of Ugandans to be grounded immutably in the seasonal rhythm of growing, tending and picking tea for the colonialists. Global demand for tea was to suffer following the Great Depression in the 1930s. In response, producers turned to the domestic market in India that was untapped. Ordinarily, tea was consumed by the English elite and anglophone middle classes in India and the same can be said of domestic tea consumption in Uganda at the time. To create local demand for tea, the product was promoted as a remedy for fatigue. Factory owners and office managers were encouraged to open tea canteens to offer afternoon tea breaks for workers as it was thought this would make workers more productive. A happier, more alert and productive workforce would compensate for the lost shift time, it was believed.   Storm in teacup? Post-independence, this messaging continued to hold sway as a classic chai Garden Tea radio advert of the 1980s and 1990s showed. It drummed up the rejuvenating properties of a cup of tea. It is this culture that the Asian (mostly Indian) diaspora introduced to their factories and their offices in Africa—Uganda inclusive. In so doing, they sowed seeds of domestic tea consumption. Unlike the British, who also added water—whose temperature is meticulously calibrated—to milk in their tea, chai was at least 50 percent milk, with ginger and cardamom spices to blend with. Today, although the word chai has taken on more dubious meanings as slang for soliciting a bribe, tea drinking continues. The practice of sharing a cup of milk tea with kin or a guest in the late afternoon is a ritual associated with the famed hospitality of the people of this land. Tea aficionados have, however, taken exception to the reduction of the hot beverage to a hasty encounter between a mug and a tea-bag complemented with hot water and milk. Shorn of its elaborate preparation process of years gone by, the quotidian consumer experience of tea—they add—has been worryingly cheapened. It may sound like a storm in the proverbial teacup, but its implications can be wide-ranging. 

Source: The Monitor