Zombo, West Nile – Before the Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative [EFOTI] Limited arrival and intervention in northern Uganda, tea once planted were left to ruin, tea farmers had no hope and chiefly, even the little green leaves they had harvested would not be processed, packed and sold.
But where there is hope, amidst challenges, thinkers are not sleeping to save the situation and their selfless efforts are being prayed for.
Soon, EFOTI came in and intervened, first of all by establishing the first tea nursery bed in Lugore government prison – north of Gulu municipality.
The Lugore tea nursery bed has since become a demonstration site [farm] and supplying plantlets for free to tea farmers in the region.
Worth to note is that, like any other region, preaching the gospel about tea farming in northern Uganda was one of the hard undertakings especially where cash crops like sorghum, millet, beans, soybeans, etc are widely farmed.
However, with such mind-set among farmers in the region, EFOTI limited executive director, Mr Edwin Atukunda Beekunda – an expert in tea farming, research, processing and marketing, now spanning more than 20 years, preached the tea gospel – with difficulties and people are now taking tea farming seriously.
Mr Atukunda, together with his staff had done a research in which according to them – the region’s soil texture and favourable climatic condition were all good for commercial tea farming.
“Tea growing can take place in every part of this country and northern Uganda much inclusive. Provided 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,” the EFOTI Limited boss said.
As of June this year, there were 350 committed tea farmers [excluding those from the cooperative] in Zombo district, with Acholi and Lango sub-regions having 120 and 145 tea farmers respectively.
These statistics has swiftly risen with the foundation intensively embarking on capacity building of tea farmers, evidence of improved tea gardens through decentering – thanks to EFOTI Limited under the supervision and active participation of Mr Atukunda, presence of Zombo Royal Tea and Zombo tea, among others.
In less than a year of EFOTI presence and intervention in tea farming, especially in Zombo district, hundreds of farmers and cooperative society have embraced tea and agreed to work with the foundation in ensuring success and improving households’ incomes.
In his letter dated 16, August, 2019 to northern Uganda State Minister, Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, the Nebbi district LC5 chairman, Mr Urombi Emmanuel expressed commitment to working with Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative Limited. This was after the district was convinced by the EFOTI intervention and recommendations by tea farmers to the district authority to endorse the foundation.
“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.
Also, 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.
In his letter 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.”
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.
Speaking to TND News recently, Mr Atukunda Edwin said: “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, cultural leaders and government. Tea will eradicate our poverty,” he added, when contacted by Our Reporter.
Alur Kingdom speaks
In a telephone interview with this contemporary online newspaper recently, Rt. Hon. Ochaya Orach Vincent – the Prime Minister (Jadipu) Alur Kingdom said: “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 Alur Kingdom, added that Edwin has been more impressive from day one.
According to the clan Premier, many people (tea experts) were recommended to them but Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative Limited director has been impressive and the Kingdom is proud of him.
With no single funding from government and foreign donor[s], determined EFOTI Limited has writhed to bring hopes and a better tea story to the region and all have embraced it, with few people trying to divert farmers – ‘it’s not possible, a better firm can do it’.