High fertilizer prices hurting tea sector

Tea farmers in Kyenjojo and Kabarole districts say the high prices of fertilizer and lack of legislation is negatively affecting the sector.

The farmers add that this situation has led to poor prices of Ugandan tea on the world market.

The farmers made these revelations to legislators on the Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry who were on field visit to Mabale and Mpanga growers’ tea factories to assess investments of government under the Uganda Development Corporation (UDC).

The Chairman, Board of Directors of Mabale Growers’ Tea Factory, Patrick Saasi, told the committee that since the reinvestment by UDC, the factory has seen some changes.

He, however, added that they continue facing a shortage of fertilizers which he says affects the quality of leaf harvested by the farmers.
“As a factory, we can no longer purchase fertilizers for our farmers due to the high prices on the market,” he said.

Saasi said that initially fertilizer was at Shs120,000 for a bag of 50kgs but has now risen to Shs200,000 adding that this has led to harvesting of leaf that cannot compete on the world market.

Saasi added that due to lack of an existing law and policy to regulate the sector, it is difficult to enforce quality.
“Tea is Uganda’s third largest export, yet the sector does not have a law and policy to enforce quality assurance. Why doesn’t government establish an authority for the tea sector to help regulate, promote and enhance development in the sector?”  he asked.

The chairperson of the committee, Hon. Mwine Mpaka, said that they are assessing the investment made by the Uganda Development Corporation in the tea factories.
“Government invested over Shs31 billion in both tea factories; therefore, we want to know the soci-economic benefits to the farmers and the community at large are,” he said.
Mwine Mpaka wondered why Ugandan tea is repackaged and sold as Kenyan tea on the auction market and whether matters of quality assurance are being addressed by the factories in order for them to make profits.

Mwine Mpaka said that Parliament will impress upon government to subsidise on the fertilizers.
“We have seen price for a bag of fertilizer has gone up and when farmers use it, they cannot make profit. Government needs to interest itself to help the farmers in order to boost the production of tea,” he said.

He added that much as government has a policy on rationalisation of its entities, the tea sector needs an authority to regulate itso that farmers harvest the best quality tea which can fetch better prices.

He said that this will enable the country to sell its tea in other markets other than at the auction in Mombasa.

Government invested Shs25 billion in Mabale Growers’ Tea Factory giving it a shareholding of 48 per cent and Shs11 billion in Mpanga growers tea factory with a 31 per cent shareholding.