The Government of Uganda (GoU) has spoken out on its decision to close coffee factories in greater Masaka, a move that has left hundreds of coffee farmers in the area helpless.
Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja, the Minister Of Agriculture, Animal Industry And Fisheries last week issued a statement on the floor of Parliament explaining the closure of coffee factories in greater Masaka Sub-Region
This was in response to the concern raised by Deogratius Kiyingi, MP Bukomansimbi South County on June 22, 2017 as to “why Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) has closed coffee factories for over two months now rendering coffee farmers helpless because the closure has seriously hampered their livelihood and they are therefore unable to meet basic needs in addition to supporting their families.”
Ssempijja admitted that two months ago, Ministry of Agriculture, through UCDA ‘temporarily’ closed coffee factories in Kinoni, Masaka, Lwengo, Sembabule, Rakai, Kalungu and Bukomasimbi over poor quality coffee due to poor post-harvest handling practices.
“Despite several warnings by UCDA on the deteriorating quality of coffee produced in the region, the coffee processors failed to adhere to the standards put in place,” he said.
He revealed that some of the most harmful coffee harvesting practices included but not limited to possession of immature coffee cherry (found being dried at the factories), processing of wet kiboko coffee which had not attained recommended Moisture content of 13-14% , heaping of wet coffee before drying which may lead to mould growth, drying of coffee on bare ground , hulling coffee sub-standard equipment , processing and marketing coffee in unhygienic conditions, drying of FAQ at coffee factories and non-compliance to the recommended factory structural guidelines.
“The above practices if not stopped pose a serious danger to Uganda coffee competitiveness on global market and health of Ugandans and consumers abroad. Therefore, after exhausting all other avenues of stopping the above malpractices, UCDA, using the powers as stated in Coffee Act 1994 regulations, moved in to seal off the processing factories so as to enforce coffee quality standards,” the Minister explained.
He added: “ We do not want to face the danger of the international community rejecting Uganda coffee as it did to fish a few years ago. Since the year 2014, the Government of Uganda intensified its campaign to improve household incomes, using coffee as one of the main pillars in this campaign. As a result of increased Government support to the coffee sub-sector, coffee seedlings planting has increased from the previous 20 million seedlings per annum to the current 200 million seedlings per annum, the effect of climate change that often impact on survival rates notwithstanding. The targeted planting level is 300 million seedlings per year up to 2018/19 coffee year.”
Currently, Uganda is ranked as the 8th coffee producer in the World having declined from the 3rd position in 1995 as the largest coffee producer in the world and having been overtaken by Vietnam, Honduras and Indonesia.
Steps Taken By UCDA Since Closure Of Factories
The Minister noted that before undertaking the quality control campaign in the Greater Masaka districts, about 80% of the coffee was being harvested while still immature (green beans); dried on bare ground and sun drying of processed coffee (FAQ/kasse/clean) was a common sight at processing factories.
“The reverse is currently happening and coffee quality and price has greatly improved. Phyto-sanitary conditions and hygiene at buying stores and factories has also improved,” Ssempijja said, adding that UCDA has embarked on sensitization drive to enable affected stakeholders and the general public appreciate the importance of maintaining good coffee quality standards.
“This is a routine activity across the country and that all regions will be reached. All this effort is done for the good of coffee stakeholders and the nation. I would like to inform Parliament that the campaign is heading to Busoga, Luwero, Mubende as the harvest season proceeds to these sub regions. We will continue to sensitize the farmers, traders and coffee and factory processors in good post-harvest handling, and good coffee quality standards to avoid further closure of the coffee factories and buying stores,” he said, adding: “ We shall continue to dialogue with the affected parties to see to it that they all play their key roles in maintaining Uganda’s coffee quality and whenever issues of malpractices are detected, they are resolved and processing plants are reopened as quickly as possible.”