How Edwin Foundation is spurring northern region into tea growing

Passionate about northern Uganda - EFOTI Director, Edwin Atekunda. File photo

By Omara Justin

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 farmer and entrepreneur.

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.

And in his pursuit of this goal, Edwin has set up a foundation called The Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative Ltd (EFOTI), an organization that is at the forefront of propagating tea growing in Uganda, with its first fruit being the initiation of tea growing in Kamwenge district in western Uganda. It was through this initiative that his mission came to the limelight and caught the attention of more people.

Edwin’s research, carried out in 2012-2014, found out that tea can grow well in the sub-counties of Kahunge, Kabambiro, Busiriba, Ntaara, Bwizi, Bihanga, Kicece, Nkoma, Matsyoro, Kamwenge and all areas surrounding Kibale National Park.

However, his research was done long before President Yoweri Museveni’s visit to Kamwenge Catholic parish on January 1, 2014 when he called for a research on soils in Kamwenge to establish whether tea and fruits can grow well in that area.

President’s call for research only gave a boost to Edwin’s move as he had already proven beyond reasonable doubt that tea can indeed thrive well in any part of the country, provided the soil is un-tampered with.

Soon after his research, Edwin mobilized and trained other famers by supplying tea seedlings from his nursery beds and later organized the launch of tea growing in Kahunge sub-county and Kamwenge town council in Kamwenge district.

Then, Edwin had 40 famers on board and currently, he has 2,120 famers who are willing to plant tea. However, he admits it was not easy to convince the local people since they initially failed to embrace any tea growing ideas.

But he later mobilized them on radios and carried out hands-on trainings for over 100 farmers in each sub-county, issuing out certificates to all the trained farmers in Effective Tea Husbandry and Estate Management.

He would later on use his own resources and take the trained farmers on a study tour to Rwebitaba Tea Research Centre in Kyenjojo district.

Edwin says he is a very selfless farmer, with evidence the way he has struggled through the years in initiating tea planting without any government or any external financial support, yet he has never given up on his passion.

As the adage goes, ‘success comes to the prepared minds’, Edwin’s better access point came when on October 31, 2014 NAADS advertised for bids at national level to supply agricultural products, including tea seedlings.

He immediately picked interest and emerged the best in the districts of Kamwenge and Kabarole.

On March 5, 2015, Mr. Atukunda signed a contract with the government as an individual to supply tea seedlings to farmers and now he says his famers in Kamwenge have over 12 million seedlings in 60 nursery beds under the Edwin Foundation and are targeting 2,000 farmers who are willing to plant tea.

Mr. Atukunda reiterates that 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,” he says.

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.

Indeed 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.

Tea farming in northern Uganda.

One of the first tea plants in Northern Uganda.

Tea is grown in the neighboring districts of Kyenjojo and Kabarole on a large scale and Beekunda can’t help thinking that just as we have the best tea currently in our local markets being Mabale tea, a proud product from the Western part of the country, we could soon have a specially grown and processed tea from the northern part as well.

Edwin 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.

As a farmer and entrepreneur, Edwin’s greatest desire now is to meet President Museveni and share with him his ambitions, achievements and future prospects.

Uganda is known to have a favorable climate for tea growing. The Tea plant which was introduced in the country by 1900 had by mid 1950’s become Uganda’s main estate crop.

Uganda has only exploited about 10% of its potential for tea growing and has about 21,000 hectares of land under tea growing.

Like Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda has had to fight to keep their tea industry alive and thriving.

Tea was first introduced in the Botanic Gardens at Entebbe, Uganda in 1909, but commercial cultivation didn’t begin until the late 1920’s when Brooke Bond began extensive plantings.

According to Fortune Africa, Uganda produces about 10,000 metric tons of tea per-annum and about 90% of tea   is exported.

The world tea production is about 3 billion kilograms and East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania contribute about 11%.

The largest producer is India with about 28% of the world’s production and the largest tea exporter is China with about 17% of the world’s total exports.

With the kind of zeal and passion that Mr. Atukunda has about tea growing, especially in northern Uganda, there is a likelihood of positive changes in the lives of the people of the north who will embrace this wonderful venture as well as a big boost in the level of tea production in Uganda, leading to the recognition of the region as a stalwart in cash crop production in the country, alongside the west and central regions.

Are you a commercial farmer or a model farmer in any parts of the country? Do you want to share your experience and knowledge with the public? If yes, we would love to engage you and help share your story.

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