Tea outgrowers in Uganda have teamed up to form a body to help them address issues that are affecting the tea value chain in the country.
The body, called the Uganda Tea Outgrowers Association (UTOA), is expected to address challenges that, among others, include low prices, product quality, fertiliser access and traceability of farmers.
Onesmus Matsiko, the chairperson of UTOA, says although the Government has distributed free tea seedlings to farmers, which has increased the tea acreage, several challenges still affect the sector.
“Today is a landmark in the history of the tea sub-sector in Uganda because for the first time, an association that brings together tea farmers in Uganda has been formed,” Matsiko said during a meeting with tea farmers in Fort Portal recently.
Drop in tea prices Matsiko said although for the last two years tea prices plunged the world over, Uganda’s tea prices plunged harder.
“One of the main reasons was due to the poor green leaf picked by farmers, which affects the final product,” he said.
Rather than farmers crying to the Government about the low tea prices, Matsiko said they have come together to craft ways of improving the product quality.
“For sure, prices of Uganda’s tea will increase as farmers come together to improve the quality of green leaf supplied to our factories,” he said.
Political and economic crisis
Out of the 121,000 metric tonnes of ready tea that is produced in Uganda, only 20% of it is consumed locally, while the rest is exported, especially to the Arab countries.
Matsiko reasons that when large tea consuming countries get economic or political hardships, the tea prices drop.
“The economic and political challenges that affect tea prices are not permanent and it is for this reason that we, the farmers, think that one day, we shall have better prices as the world stabilises,” he said.
As farmers remain hopeful for better prices, Matsiko says it is time for farmers to put their gardens to standard and to also streamline the entire tea value chain.
Tea demand inexhaustible
Maj. Julius Rubahimba from Operation Wealth Creation, said the demand for tea the world over is inexhaustible.
“Tea is the world’s second most consumed beverage after water. There is no way the world can suddenly stop consuming tea. As Uganda, we need to be organised in order to tap into the market of the world’s second most consumed beverage,” Rubahimbya said.
He disclosed that whereas Uganda has the capacity to increase tea production and productivity, only 24% of the country’s potential has been exploited.
“Unfortunately, even the 24% potential that we have so far utilised in tea production is below 50% of the yield potential,” he said.
The world market value for tea is currently at $200b and is projected to be at $318b in 2025.
“What we need to do as tea farmers is to increase the acreage and productivity in order to fit into that market,” Rubahimbya said.
Sector growth, development
The Government has since 2008 supported tea farmers with over sh500m free tea seedlings, according to Grace Kazigati, the agribusiness officer at the National Agricultural Advisory Services.
The Government intervention of supplying free tea seedlings has, according to Kazigati, improved the volume of ready-made tea produced in Uganda, as well as the farmers’ income.
“Previously, Uganda produced only 58,000 metric tonnes of ready-made tea, but because of Government’s intervention, tea production has increased to 121,000 metric tonnes.
‘‘This also means that farmers have benefited a lot from that increase through improvement in household income” Kazigati said.
BOUT Farmers’ Association
Kazigati said by farmers coming together, it will give millage to the way business will be conducted in the tea value chain.
“By coming together, it means farmers will have one voice to address challenges that hinder development in the tea industry value chain.
Alex Amanya, the reclaim sustainability project manager at Solidaridad, has called on the Government to pass and operationalise the tea policy regulatory framework.
The draft tea policy is currently under discussion in Cabinet, according to sources.
“The Government has done a lot in the development of the tea value chain. However, if the sector is not regulated, all the investment will be in vain,” Amanya said.
He said he has also commended farmers for coming together to address issues that affect them.
“Outgrowers are the majority in the tea sub-sector, so when they come together, they will have one voice to push for their agenda,” Amanya said.
According to Amanya, Uganda has the best opportunities to realise from tea once the tea policy has to be passed to be able to regulate the industry.