By Darious Magara
The state minister for trade, David Wakikona, has pledged to make drastic changes in the tea sector. Although tea as a cash crop contributes $135m annually to the country, it has no body or policy that manages it like sister cash crops such as cotton and coffee.
As a result, tea factories and estates have reported losses in the recent past following the drop in the commodity price on the international market.
Meeting tea estate owners, processors and farmers at the trade ministry offices in Kampala recently, Wakikona said his ministry will formulate a tea policy quickly.
He noted that they have started to develop a Cabinet memorandum, a document that will carry information about the tea sector to the Cabinet.
Wakikona added that the Government will hold quarterly meetings with tea stakeholders to discuss challenges facing the sector.
He said the Government also plans to rehabilitate roads in tea-producing areas to make the transportation of the commodity easy and affordable. Wakikona said the trade ministry will work with the Uganda Export Promotions Board to find market for Ugandan tea.
“We shall ask the Uganda Development Co-operation, an agency run under the trade ministry, to feature tea issues prominently. This body is in charge of supporting industrialisation and value addition,” he added.
The chairman of the Igara Growers Tea Factory, Arthur Muguzi, said farmers and tea factories have not benefited from international trade because of several trading barriers. Ugandan tea is sold through auction at Mombasa.
“While Uganda has about 200,000 hectares of viable land for tea growing, only 28,000 hectares are under production,”
However, tea production has more than doubled, from 33 million kilogrammes in 2005 to 70 million kilogrammes in 2013.
“The 112% surge pushed the nation’s leaf export, making Uganda the third largest exporter of tea in Africa, after Kenya and Malawi.” Naboth Mbagirenta, a director at Igara Growers Tea Factory, said on top of registering losses due to the fall of tea prices on the international market, the sector is heavily taxed, yet other economies give incentives to players in the tea industry.
Billy Singh, the chairman of the Uganda Tea Association, said the Government needs to give specific attention to the sector to sustain the production of tea.