There’s a video clip circulating on social media sites where Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) and Uganda Coffee Development (UCDA) officials accompanied by Police officers are seen throwing coffee they found being dried on bare soil in a nearby bush. This incident happened recently in Ntungamo district, western Uganda.
The same clip shows coffee beans with mold and harvested unripe berries. This clip has ignited a heated debate in a popular coffee WhatsApp group where I am a member.
Many players in the coffee sector agree that Uganda must up its quality but this can only be achieved through rigorous trainings and sensitization of key stakeholders-the farmers.
Burning poorly stored or unripe coffee and arresting culprits won’t solve the problem without making them understand how they stand to benefit from improving the quality of coffee.
The National Coffee Bill 2018 is a step in the right direction although it contains Clauses that will leave the farmer on the wall if the Bill is passed in its current form.
The Bill aims to reform the existing law to provide for the UCDA to regulate, promote and oversee the coffee sub-sector; and to regulate all on-farm and off-farm activities in the coffee value chain.
The Bill seeks to repeal and replace the Uganda Coffee DevelopmentAuthority Act, Cap. 325, which was enacted in 1991 and only covered off-farm activities of marketing and processing, leaving on-farm activities like planting materials, nurseries, harvesting and post harvesting handling outside the scope of the law.
However, some of the Clauses are in bad faith and must be scrapped or revised.
For example, Clause 26 gives UCDA powers to register all coffee farmers in the coffee subsector.
Clause 26(2) reads: “A person shall be registered as a coffee farmer on fulfilling the following requirements-; (a) he or she shall either be growing coffee at the time of registration or shall have proof of his or her intention to commence growing coffee within a period of six months, from the date of registration; and (b) the land where the coffee is grown or is to be grown shall have been evaluated by the Authority (UCDA)and deemed suitable for growing coffee.”
The above Clause is restrictive in nature. It means that after the registration exercise, new coffee farmers/ investors shall not be entertained. This is dangerous in a liberal and global economy. It must be rejected.
Also, telling potential farmers to plant coffee within six months after registration is unfair and should be removed from the Bill.
In addition to that, giving powers to UCDA to determine the land/type of soil on which coffee is to be grown is quite ambiguous that aims at kicking small scale farmers out of business yet it’s these very people (small scale farmers) that have supported and upheld the coffee subsector for decades.
By evaluating land, it will require carrying out soil testing and analysis. The question is; who will bear the cost? How much will it cost? Will small scale farmers afford it?
The Bill is silent on this. It should explicitly be included in the Bill/law that a farmer shall grow coffee regardless of the size of land they have. This is because small scale farmers maybe pushed out of coffee business on the pretext that they don’t have enough land.
It is also possible that wrong elements (read the mafia group eating up this country) may influence UCDA officials to block some farmers from growing coffee claiming that land is not suitable for the crop. Therefore, land evaluation should also be rejected after all missing nutrients can be introduced in the soil for better yields.
I know many farmers reaping big from coffee that was planted on what would otherwise been an unsuitable land; all they have done is to better the soil by adding manure and introducing missing nutrients in it.
The registration of farmers will also come along with unnecessary bureaucracy, a thing that will frustrate many coffee farmers/investors. The Bill is unclear on how registration exercise will be conducted. It’s also silent on whether the acquired license will be for a life time.
Additionally, the Bill, if passed in its current form gives too much power to UCDA and the Minister.
According to the Bill, UCDA can revoke a farmer’s license if he fails to look after his coffee farm well. If a farmer isn’t satisfied with UCDA’s decision, they can appeal to the Minister.
This Clause should also be removed because UCDA can be and the Minister can be influenced to de-register farmers.
Clause 29 which provides for registration of coffee nursery bed operators is also vague. It’s silent on a farmer owning a nursery bed. The conditions for also owing a nursery bed are harsh and must be rejected.
The Bill should put more emphasis and focus on improving the quality of Uganda’s coffee along the whole coffee value chain.
The Bill also aims “to promote and support joint ventures, investments and concessions in the coffee value chain…”
Whereas the Bill says it will support registered farmers, chances are high that only huge investments will get adequate support as highlighted above.
I also think that more farmers should be included on the UCDA Board. Two farmers, who are determined by the Minister are not enough. Farmers should choose their representatives on UCDA Board. I suggest at least four members because farmers are the key stakeholders in the coffee sub-sector.
On a broader outlook, government should not only register coffee farmers, but all farmers in the country irrespective of the activities they are engaged in.
By doing so, government will get a true picture on how to support them and increase agricultural productivity which feeds into industrialization, job creation and increased exports.
The author is a farming journalist. email@example.com, 0775170346