Northern Uganda – To demystify is simply to make something easier to understand; and this is what has been taken up to promote tea farming in northern Uganda.
History tells us that in the 1950s, until independence on 9th October 1962, British Colonial Office Policy encouraged the development of co-operatives for subsistence farmers to partially convert to selling their crops: principally coffee, cotton, tobacco, and maize countrywide.
In each political district, there was a co-operative “union” which built stores and, eventually, with government money, processing factories: cotton ginneries, tobacco dryers, and maize mills.
The number of farmers involved in such enterprises rose exponentially as the co-operatives made the profits that the Asian traders had previously made.
The roads, other infrastructure and security were better in this colonial period than in the late 1900s, so allowing relatively efficient transport and marketing of agricultural products.
After the Idi Amin 1971-1978 era of massacres and tortures, David Hines, in 1982 returned to Uganda in a World Bank delegation to find decrepit factories that had been kept going “as long as possible by cannibalizing other factories.”
While Uganda’s cash crops countrywide have almost been the same, tea, in northern Uganda was thought as “not fit” cash crop for the region – even when the region’s soil texture and favorable climate – according to experts, is fit for it.
Tea production in the 1970s almost ceased when the government expelled many owners of tea estates, mostly Asians. Many tea farmers also reduced production as a result of warfare and economic upheaval.
But, successive governments after former leader, idi Amin Dda encouraged owners of tea estates to intensify their cultivation of existing hectarage.
Until recently, Edwin Bekunda Atekunda – the founder and executive director of The Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative Ltd [EFOTI] took it out of love for tea, and for northern Uganda to demystify tea multiplication, value chain, among other innovations.
After successful research, that later made him the first man to introduce tea in Kamwenge district, Mr Atekunda had his sights on northern Uganda, where, according to him – it was possible to make people understand it more; better than growing other cash crops.
While in Kamwenge, his research conducted between 2012 and 2014 and published by Daily Monitor on 2nd March, 2016, found out that tea could be grown in almost all the sub-counties there.
Then, Atekunda started with only 40 committed farmers, and more than 1000 were willing to plant tea.
After successful tea stories in Western Uganda, the EFOTI director acquired a land in Rugore government prison in Gulu district where he set up a tea nursery bed, mobilized farmers and gave them tea seedlings for planting.
“When passion drives you, nothing can stop you. In the pursuit of our aspirations and dreams – obstacles are just, but stepping stones. This is a case with one of the ambitious and passion driven men – Edwin Atukunda Beekunda, a renowned tea farmer and entrepreneur,” Justin Omara, a radio broadcaster who met EFOTI director in Gulu town, and first told the region, his tea stories, say.
“Edwin’s leverage in the agricultural realm is not just for personal success and prestige but, as he passionately says, it is to empower farmers across the country to best utilize the one resource they have but not properly made good use of by engaging in intensive commercial agriculture,” he said of Edwin.
Speaking to TND News recently, Mr. Atukunda says tea growing can take place in every part of this country, provided that “there is no water logging, that is; the drainage of the soil and the height of the water table are all satisfactory, soil erosion and water run-off are under control.”
This explanation quashes any phony belief that some people have heard about tea growing as only possible in the central and western parts of Uganda.
Undeniably his assertion is true, as Lugore and Loro Prison farms in Gulu and Oyam districts respectively have witnessed the successful planting and nourishment of the first tea plants in northern Uganda, courtesy of his efforts.
He now plans to extend his tea planting idea to more parts in the northern region, which move could foster greater development in commercial agriculture and transform the local community with the possible introduction of tea factories which would provide employment opportunities to young men and women in the surrounding districts of Nwoya, Amuru, Pader, Lamwo, Agago, Omoro and Oyam.
EFOTI and Zombo Tea Farmers in accord
In a letter dated 19, August 2019, Zombo Tea Growers Cooperative Society Ltd’s chairman, Mr. Okello Jimmy communicated the society’s desire to work with The Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative Limited.
Titled: “Authority to work with the Cooperative Society and its members“, he wrote: “Following our earlier meeting with you at the district Farm Institute-Zeu and subsequent working together to showcase Zombo Tea at the just concluded West Nile Investment Symposium 2019 held at Muni University in Arua City, we allow you to jointly carryout the following activities pending the signing of formal Memorandum of Understanding.”
The cooperative society has over 140 members, with more, coming to join tea enterprise
In a draft MOU between Zombo Tea Growers Cooperative Society Limited and The EFOTI for Joint Public Private Partnership to Improve Tea Research, Production, Productivity Marketing and Value Addition in Zombo District, the following framework [plans] are to be undertaken.
One, collaboratively establish mother gardens in Zombo district
Two; building capacities of nursery tea operators especially in places where tea growing has started in recent years.
Three, acquiring and introducing good quality tea clones for easy access by farmers
Four, conducting soil analysis in areas where tea has been recently introduced
Five; conducting comprehensive trainings on agronomic and good agricultural practices of tea growing to all stakeholders.
Six; enhancing value addition and marketing in tea value chain, manufacturing, packaging and marketing of green tea and other products.
Finally, any other areas deemed necessary by the two parties.
Also, recently, Alur Kingdom endorsed Mr Atekunda to use his foundation to popularize tea farming within the Kingdom and entire region [West Nile].
Talking to TND News last month, he says he received overwhelming support from Alur Kingdom to train her subjects on tea farming.
This comes after West Nile Business Symposium held at Muni University last week- where many products, including tea were exhibited.
“The foundation has been given full powers to spearhead tea development in Zombo,” he told TND News.
“All tea farmers in the district will be trained by the foundation on general tea management, value addition and marketing of tea products,” added.
Alur Kingdom speaks
In a telephone interview with our reporter, Rt. Hon. Ochaya Orach Vincent – the Prime Minister (Jadipu) Alur Kingdom says: “We are trying to do the things differently. He (Edwin) came to give us advice on tea, showing us how to manage tea, value chain and make profitable tea farming.”
Mr. Orach, who’s also the Head of Business in the Kingdom, added that Edwin was more impressive from day one.
Northern Uganda Minister, Grace K. Freedom – who’s a tea farmer herself – is excited of Mr Atekunda’s initiative and efforts to transform the region.
According to the Premier Alur Kingdom, many people (tea experts) were recommended to them but Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative Limited director “has been impressive.”
Nebbi leadership welcomes EFOTI
After Zombo district now excited to have processed and packed “Zombo Tea”, Nebbi leadership have quickly come openly to join the ‘tea race’.
In his letter dated 16, August, 2019 to northern Uganda State Minister, Grace Freedom Kweyocwiny, the Nebbi district LC5 chairman, Urombi Emmanuel expressed commitment to work with The Edwin Foundation Tea Intitative Limited.
In that letter, Mr. Urombi asked the Minister (Office of the Prime Minister) for technical support in tea management.
The LC5 letter was in reference to a prior letter to him, authored by Minister, Grace Freedom on 25, July, 2019 under Ref. PD88/163/3 introducing The Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative Limited, to support the district in technical tea management.
“Since 2016 when tea seedlings were delivered to farmers in Nebbi, there were a number of challenges faced by farmers including drought and as such we are far behind,” Mr. Urombi said.
“The introduction of the Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative Limited is therefore a step in the right direction. This is to request you to strengthen this partnership as we are willing to work with this foundation,” he added
According to Atekunda, he says: “I have done this in the Western part of the country (Kamwenge and other districts). Northern Uganda has got massive potentials and people are willing and ready for tea.”
“All I ask for is support from farmers, district leaders and government. Tea will eradicate our poverty,” he added.
In his plan for building a sustainable tea seed system in northern Uganda and popularizing tea growing in the region, Mr Atekunda says he plans to acquire planting materials and establishing additional tea acreage, manufacturing tea products from specialty tea, marketing of made tea products, among others.
Key to him, is making sure, with support from government and development partners northern Uganda owns a tea factory in each sub-region.
Summary of tea farmers in northern Uganda as at July, 2019
Zombo – 350
Nebbi – [data not available]
Acholi – 120
Lango – 145
However, TND News understands that registration of tea farmers in entire northern Uganda is still ongoing, with some farmers in Kamdini sub-county, willing to come on board.