Tea farmers in Kabarole and Kyejonjo districts are struggling to keep in business as several challenges thwart their only source of income. Tea factories in the two districts buy up to 70% of the green leaf from out growers and get the remaining 20% from their own plantations.
However, poor farming methods, poor roads, the failure to access tea collection centers and lack of irrigation equipment during the dry weather threatens the future of tea farming in the area. This has resulted into the failure to maintain quality and quantity of supply as well as poor income.
Gerald Irumba, the chairperson Mabale tea out growers association says it is requirement that freshly picked green leaf tea reaches the tea factory in good condition within a few hours of being picked, but few farmers meet the condition because some of the farms are located up to 30km from the factory.
The distance, coupled with the poor state of roads implies that by the time the green leaf reaches the factory they are dry and are rejected by the factories.
He also says that the association plans to construct leaf collection sheds near the farms so that farmers can store their green leaf in cool, dry conditions, while waiting to be collected by the factories.
David Magezi, a tea farmer in Mabale says that 60% of his income is from tea planting. He however says that he has failed to increase on the income due to poor farming methods. Magezi says that improved farming practices involve using inputs like fertilizers and herbicides which are very costly. Magezi also says that he lacks irrigation techniques to use during the dry weather.
Francis Mujuni, the quality manager TAMTECO tea factory in Kabarole district says that few farmers meet the standard of green leaf required by the factory. He says that some farmers have resorted to using machines instead of manual plucking, which affects quality standards.
He says that they receive only 15,000 kilograms of good quality green leaf a day, which isn’t enough and impacts heavily on the quality of their green leaf which is exported to countries like Great Britain, China and Pakistan.
According to the Uganda Tea Association, last year, Tea output remained unchanged from the previous year due to erratic weather and the increased cost of fertilizers.