Uganda’s tea sector faces hard times this year

Tuesday April 18 2017

Women picking tea on a farm in Nyeri, central

Women picking tea on a farm in Nyeri, central Kenya. While Uganda was at par with Kenya at the introduction of tea as a cash crop in the 1960s, Kenya has increased acreage almost a 100 fold to slightly above 190,000 hectares while Uganda has only grown marginally to about 40,000 hectares. PHOTO | FILE  

By PHILOMENA MATSIKO

Lack of regulation policies and competition is hurting the production of tea in Uganda.

Having earned the country $72 million in 2015/16 financial year, experts project that the tea sector is capable of fetching at least $100 million annually.

“Even with the lower production, tea exports rank as Uganda’s second largest agricultural export only rivalled by coffee. Available statistics show that on average, 93 per cent of tea products is exported while 7 per cent is consumed domestically. More recent statistics from Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development indicate that Uganda earned $72 million from exporting 63,456 tonnes,” the Parliamentary Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry said.

The committee’s draft report warned that the sector is on the verge of collapse because of neglect by the government.

Tea growing zones
The crop, which is largely produced in the western Uganda highlands, especially the Tooro region, Bushenyi and more recently introduced to Kabale and Kanungu districts, is the third major foreign exchange earner, contributing 0.36 per cent of Uganda’s gross domestic product.

According to statistics from the Uganda Tea Association, tea production between 2015 and 2016 dropped from 58,588,208 kilogrammes to 39,298,960 kilogrammes.

While Uganda was at par with Kenya at the introduction of tea as a cash crop in the region in the 1960s with at least 20,000 hectares, over the past four decades, Kenya has increased acreage under tea almost a 100 fold to slightly above 190,000 hectares while Uganda has only grown marginally to about 40,000 hectares.

Rwanda, smaller in size and advantaged by good soils, has instead concentrated on improved quality that has seen the country command the best prices at the Mombasa auction. 

But for Uganda, both volumes and quality have suffered despite many comparative advantages the country enjoys.

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