Gulu –Despite the importance of tea as the third traditional export earner [commodity] in Uganda – other tea farming sub-region [region] in the country are seeing their tea getting spoiled because of many factors.
Tea is also recognised as an important export commodity with high potential to contribute to national income, employment and environment conservation.
It’s one of the ten crops identified in agricultural sector development strategy and investment plan, thus a viable tool for driving the vision 2040 agenda [Economy Policy Research Centre, 2014].
Tea production is important to the economy because it has no season, and is harvested throughout the year.
Like in some regions in the country now benefiting a lot from tea – in northern Uganda – tea took off admits low interest from farmers. This was because, prior, tea planted and were doing relatively well would not be harvested nor well managed.
Farmers were also getting low support from government even when the latter did supply them with plantlets and another factor for it was that farmers’ capacities on tea management, decentring, harvesting, among others were wanting.
Since 2017 when The Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative [EFOTI Ltd] – a company with vast experiences in tea: farming, research, farm management, nursery bed establishment and other fields, farmers’ hopes have resumed.
However, with some hopes and smiles on farmers’ faces now visible – the EFOTI Executive Director, Mr Edwin Atukunda Beekunda still reports key challenges likely to dwindle tea success in the region.
“Not many farmers have had their capacities enhanced throughout the region. The foundation needs support from government and all stakeholders to make this possible since with boosted capacities, farmers can manage their own gardens, they can harvest what is needed by the factory, among others,” Mr Atukunda told TND News on phone.
While government intervention to support tea growers through pricing intervention is unlikely given the current policy in Uganda, the government may consider some measures to support smallholder producers.
This is especially important given the potential development in tea production from these producers. Among the measures to support smallholder tea farmers includes strengthening growers’ capacities, societies; support to institution or a company to carry out the aforementioned tasks, and who would be in charge of disseminating market information to farmers.
Also, improvement in rural transportation infrastructure and feeder roads will reduce transportation costs and consequently may improve producers’ prices.
The EFOTI Ltd director says he’s working hard with different stakeholders in the region to see that government establishes at least one tea factory in the region now that green leaves are available and in excess.
In less than eight months of its intervention in northern Uganda’s sub-region of West Nile, the EFOTI Ltd has done tremendous intervention in tea – according to local leaders and experts.
Aneniwu Patrick, the District Agricultural Officer [DAO] for Zombo district last year: “We were pleased to have somebody with knowledge in the management of garden in EFOTI Ltd who was identified by the Northern Uganda State Minister to come and work on her garden. I saw the work he did in the garden and i feel all of us should come together and join hands in the Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative [EFOTI Ltd] so that we can be able to change the status quo of the tea management.”
According to DAO, the district’s focus is to ensure value addition component in some of the enterprises like tea is maintained.
The Alur Kingdom Prime Minister – who is also the Kingdom’s head of business, Rt. Hon. Vincent Ochaya told leaders last year that he was now beginning to have “some small smiling faces” because the “journey has been a tough one”.
The Kingdom premier added that: “First of all, most of us tea was new to us so, we somehow lost direction, there were things we didn’t take rightly as beneficiaries.”
According to Mr Atukunda – it’s a high time government reconsiders its interest and invest much in tea sub-sector since 97% is exported.
“Therefore, farmers will later have stable income. Tea is one of the best priority crops in household income generation and poverty eradication,” he added.
Today, the tea sub-sector supports 500,000 households and over 1,000,000 people are employed by the sub-sector in Uganda.
Tea is also a perishable crop which must be processed within 8 hours of harvest. This, therefore, according to EFOTI Ltd director necessitates that the processing unit is established in the centre of a tea growing area.