Ssendaula in his coffee farm/Daily Monitor photo
Gerald Ssendaula, the former Minister of Finance and a prominent coffee farmer has described as “unfortunate” the decision by Government to incorporate Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) into the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), saying the move will adversely affect the coffee sector.
“The issue of incorporating UCDA into the ministry of agriculture is the most regrettable point. There’s already a new National Coffee Act, 2021. It’s perfect. It came in handy (unlike before, the Act gives UCDA powers to regulate all on-farm and off-farm activities in the coffee value chain). What we needed to implement is to separate the regulator (UCDA) (from MAAIF). Let UCDA regulate the sector. If you want, you can take away the promotion function to another ministry of trade or agriculture but the regulatory arrangement should be retained by UCDA. This is because, if we are to succeed in coffee, we need successful and viable seedlings and you are not going to achieve this through the ministry,” Ssendaula said in a recent exclusive interview with Business Focus at one of his farms in Kaabagala village near Kinoni Trading Centre in Lwengo district.
UCDA is a government agency created in 1991 with the mandate to “regulate, promote and oversee the quality of coffee along the entire value chain, support research and development, promote production, and improve the marketing of coffee in order to optimize foreign exchange earnings for the country and payments to the farmers.
Ssendaula, who is also the chairman of the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE), a coffee farmers’ national organisation, says the government decision is set to backfire because of too much red tape at the Ministry.
He adds that once merged, the authority will become inefficient which will open doors for unscrupulous persons who will disrupt the entire coffee value chain by compromising quality right from the farm to the cup.
“Ministry bureaucracy is so big and takes a lot of time. You need to effectively and efficiently regulate nursery beds so that farmers don’t buy any rubbish (poor quality clonal plantlets).
When this responsibility of regulating and promoting coffee is put in the ministry, you’re not going to get the success you need out of coffee and it will be a loss if we lose out on a national crop. Coffee and agriculture have sustained this economy.”
He says agriculture should be given special consideration.
“We must have realistic targets when merging government agencies. What is it you’re going to achieve after taking UCDA to agriculture ministry? Most of the people who get ministerial powers want to have their activities under one umbrella, but it would have helped a great deal if UCDA was retained as an independent entity like we did with (Uganda) Revenue Authority to collect our taxes. That’s why we have been largely been successful,” he says.
Last year, Uganda exported 6.3 million bags of coffee, the highest ever volume in the history of the country. This represents a 75% increment compared to the previous year.
In monetary terms, the coffee export fetched the country USD 826 million, representing 22 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings in the last financial year.
There are also fears that UCDA’s coffee extension officers may be affected by the ongoing merging of agencies, a thing that will badly affect the coffee sector.
This is because coffee is a unique crop and not all Government Agriculture extension officers at Sub-County and District levels understand this crop very well.
According to Government’s compensation plan, 2,200 staff will be affected in the ongoing rationalization and merging of government agencies.
Cabinet approved the merging of 69 Government institutions-56 in the first phase and 13 in the second phase.
According to the Public Service Ministry, the expenditure by agencies stood at 37% of the national budget and with their merger, Government hopes to save about Shs650bn per annum.
The saving will come from wage and on-wage expenditure that Government has been allocating to agencies per annum.
At the moment, two agencies including the Rural Electrification Agency (ERA) and the Science and Technology Ministry have already been mainstreamed to the energy ministry and Office of the President, respectively.