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Absence of regulations failing tea production, quality-Expert

By Kabuye Ronald

Absence of a government policy to regulate the production of tea in the country has caused the country’s failure to produce the required quantity and quality to earn more.

Experts in tea production say that Uganda has failed to hit the targets set by the tea expansion strategy of reaching 112,000 metric tons a year and 155 million dollars in export revenues by 2020.

They reasoned that the continued failure to put in place a tea policy and regulation is the main reason behind the continued poor quality, failure to meet targeted quantities and Uganda tea continuing to fetch lower prices compared to her competitors Kenya and Rwanda on the international markets.

Innocent Twesime, a manager at Swazi Highland Tea in Buhweju said that due to the lack of a tea policy and regulation, there are no set standards right from production to post-harvest handling as well as processing at the different factories.

“The lack of the policy itself has dragged the quality improvement in our tea sub sector or in Uganda’s tea. So, compared to neighboring countries, for example, Uganda’s tea is slightly of inferior quality,” he told journalists during a tour.

Stella Mbakeya, a director at the same firm described the tea policy as a regulatory framework that “makes us do things right.”

“Without a tea policy there are certain things that we do not have. Some people compromise on our quality because there is no regulation. Every one plants, harvests the way they want. Anybody can put up a factory whether you are a farmer or you are not, you can put up a factory and above all, there are certain things we need to have subsidized like fertilizers. We need to have good clones. We need to have pesticides subsidized by the government,” she explained.

Mbakeya said that lack of the regulatory framework in green leaf production also creates a mad scramble for green leaf especially during the dry off-peak seasons, thereby contributing to the lower prices of Uganda tea at the international markets.

Onesmus Matsiko, the General Manager, Mabale Growers Tea Factory in Kyenjojo District said that the quantities produced and revenue earned have not grown as dramatically as was envisaged.

He revealed that when the tea expansion strategy was launched, Uganda produced 60,504 metric tons compared to a production of 76,769 tons in 2020/2021 which is still below the target of 112 metric tons by 2020 and 155 million dollars in export revenues.

“During the time when they are scrambling for the green leaf, they become insensitive to quality. The farmers ply factories. When one factory says this leaf is of poor quality, a farmer will tell you if you do not like the quality, your competitors’ truck is about to arrive here and with cash and with a higher price. So that situation drives the quality! And that is why Uganda’s tea price at the Mombasa auction is less than half of Rwanda, like 60 percent of Kenya price, because there is no regulation and everyone pursues his individual interest,” said Matsiko, also the chairperson of Uganda Tea Out growers Association (UTOA).

According to Matsiko, the lack of a tea policy also means there are no clear standards at the production stage.

“For instance, tea pluckers are supposed to pick the freshest leaf to ensure high quality of tea. However, the pluckers are paid Shs100 per kilo and it is according to how many kilos that they are able to pick per day. These tea pluckers in Mabale in Kyenjojo district, pluck as much leaf as possible regardless of checking quality. Their goal is to try and attain 100kg per day to break even,” he added.

The Agro-Industrialization programme of the NDP3 has designated tea as a priority cash crop that will help uplift the incomes and welfare of Ugandan farmers involved in its production.

Tea is the third leading agricultural foreign exchange earner after coffee and fish.

Statistics show that tea is an important source of income and livelihood for over 80,000 households in 21 districts across the country.

In 2015 the government unveiled the tea expansion strategy which has guided efforts to increase the acreage and quantity of tea production.

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