South Western Tea Farmers Stuck With Produce

2122 Views Mbarara, Uganda

In short
The absence of processing factories in the project districts has seen several tea farms going to waste. A few farmers transport leaf to Mitooma and Kanungu districts where factories exist.

Tea farmers in the districts of Isingiro, Ntungamo, Kabale and Kisoro are stuck with ready tea for plucking.

Government had rolled out a tea planting project with an initial investment of 20 billion Shillings six years ago. The aim was to secure an alternative source of income for farmers in the Western Uganda districts. 

The same project was rolled out in areas neighboring Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks to ease conflicts between locals and the park. This was based on a belief that stray animals cannot eat or destroy tea plants.

Kigezi highland tea, owned by business tycoon James Musinguzi Garuga was identified as a lead agency under an arrangement that would see factories established across the project districts.  However, disagreements emerged between the government of Uganda and Kigezi highland over the government's failure to pay nursery operators and other tea farmers. The agency has since suspended the construction of factories to consume the tea leaf.

The absence of processing factories in the project districts has seen several tea farms going to waste. A few farmers transport leaf to Mitooma and Kanungu districts where factories exist.

Jonathan Twebembere, a farmer in Itojo Sub County, Ntungamo district owns a 30-acre tea farm which has since become bushy due to inactivity.  He says that he can no longer afford to lose money to the project yet he is not earning. Twebembere says that hiring a lorry to transport tea from Ntungamo to Bushenyi requires 200,000 Shillings which translates into losses when added to other costs.

Reverend Fr Gaetano Batanyenda, the parish priest at Kitanga parish in Rukiga County says the parish has spent over 500 million Shillings on a tea project which has since been abandoned due to high maintenance costs.

Fr Gaetano says that the option of transporting leaf to Kanungu district, where Kigezi highland tea runs a factory, is not viable considering that each kilo of tea leaf is only bought at 300 Shillings on the market against an expenditure of 150 Shillings on labour and 70 Shillings for transport. He says that at the end of the day, farmers only earn 80 Shillings from each kilo of tea leaf.
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Fr Gaetano wants the government and the lead agency to quickly move in and ensure that the proposed factory at Kitumba in Kabale is set up to consume the tea produced by farmers.
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Fidelis Kanyamunyu, a farmer from Kisoro says that tea project had shown very positive results especially in the areas neighboring the forests as animals had reduced the rate at which they used to destroy people's gardens.

He says that it is time for the government to move in and ensure that all is sorted. He says that the government has already injected billions of money in the project and once farmers are frustrated, tea project may be put to waste.

Anthony Byaruhanga, the Ntungamo district production officer told our reporter that they have advised farmers with ready tea to improvise and transport it to Bushenyi as a solution is sought.

Ntungamo district chairperson Denis Singahache says that the tea planting project was embraced by farmers in the district with over 24 million plantlets planted. But Singahache says that he has on several occasions been approached by farmers asking him where to sell off the produce.
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Kisoro district chairperson Abel Bizimana says that the success of the project hangs in balance as some of the farmers have already uprooted the tea plantlets. He adds that he is working with the local leaders in Mitooma, Ntungamo, Kabale, Kanungu, Isingiro and Rukungiri to seek a solution.
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On the 3rd of December 2016, farmers met with state minister for economic monitoring Kasiriivu Atwooki in Ntungamo district where a promise to intervene into the situation was made but results are yet to be seen. Efforts by our reporter to get a comment from Kigezi highland tea were fruitless.


About the author

Anthony Kushaba
For Anthony Kushaba, journalism is not just a job; it is a calling. Kushaba believes journalism is one of the few platforms where the views of the oppressed and margainalised can be heard. This is what his journalism aims to do: bring to light untold stories.

Kushaba is the Mbarara region URN bureau chief. Mitooma, Ntungamo, Bushenyi, Sheema, Isingiro, and Kiruhura districts fall under his docket. Kushaba has been a URN staff member since 2012.

Kushaba is a journalism graduate from Uganda Christian University Study Centre at Bishop Barham College in Kabale. Before joining URN, Kushaba worked with Voice of Kigezi (2008), Bushenyi FM (2010) and later on to Voice of Muhabura.

Kushaba's journalism interests centre on conflict, peace and electoral reporting. Kushaba occasionally writes on tourism, health, religion and education. He describes himself as highly driven and will pursue a tip until it yields a story.