Failure by tea growers in Uganda to ensure good quality has seen the country consistently fetch a lower price at the Mombasa Tea Auction compared to its counterparts in the East African region.
According to the June 2020 East African Tea Export Auctions report, Rwanda's tea fetches a premium, followed by Kenya, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania in that order.
In June for instance, Rwanda earned $2.47 (sh9,026) per kilogramme, on average, followed by Kenya with $1.86 (sh6,797), Burundi came third with $1.97 (sh7,199) per kg while Uganda was in the fourth position with $1.22 (sh4,458) per kg.
Tanzania crop, on the other hand, fetched $1.06 (sh3,873) per kg.
Even in last week's report (August 3-5, 2020), Rwanda's produce fetched the highest average price per kilogramme at $2.48 (sh9,062). Kenya and Burundi's produce fetched an average of $1.92 (sh7,016) per kg, each. Uganda, on the other hand, earned $1.29 (sh4,714) while Tanzania got $0.99 (sh3,617).
Since the grade of tea offered across the East African region is the same but the price differentiation comes as a result of quality. Buyers may bid high or low depending on quality.
The Uganda Tea Association executive secretary, George William Ssekitoreko said the poor quality of Uganda's tea is a result of poorly plucked tea and the lower altitude of tea growing areas in Uganda, compared to other East African countries.
It is said that tea grown on a higher elevation, impacts its growing process. This is because high altitudes are colder and have rocky soils, forcing plants to grow at a slower pace. In the process, allowing greater concentration of carbohydrates in the leaves, which adds natural sweetness, as well as the famed creamy texture.
Additionally, experts say that colder temperatures limit pests and diseases, reducing the need for pesticides and the bitterness in the leaf, which in most cases comes from polyphenic compounds that develop as natural pest control.
About the plucked leaf, Ssekitoreko said that most Ugandan tea farmers are not disciplined when it comes to plucking the green tea leaves, saying that even when one factory rejects the leaf on account of quality, another one buys it.
To ensure quality, he said that the government needs to put in place a Tea Policy to guide the operations of the sub sector and ensure that all players conform to standards.
During last week's auction, the volume of tea from Uganda at the auction dipped, with 247,486 kilogrammes of tea being unsold during the auction.
Uganda had offered 1.64 million kilogrammes, which was lower than the 1.68 million kilogrammes offered over the same period last year.
Kenya, the global leader in black tea exports, on the other hand, offered the highest consignment of 8.93 million kilogrammes but sold 8.25 million kilogrammes.
Rwanda offered 505,385 kilogrammes, Burundi offered 238,138 kilogrammes while Tanzania offered 4,588 kilogrammes.
The regional teas are offered for sale at the Mombasa Auction by the East African Tea Traders Association (EATTA) before they are shipped out of the country.
The Mombasa-based auction sells tea from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
It is the second-largest black tea auction in the world after Sri Lanka's Colombo.