For many years, the Kigezi region had never had any significant cash crop until 2008 when tea growing was introduced with funding from the government through its Naads programme.
At the helm of this initiative was Kigezi Highland company led by Mr James Musinguzi Garuga.
The farmers and community groups that embraced tea growing at that time, or shortly after, are now reaping the benefits of early adoption.
Benon Byaruhanga, 64, a resident of Kichwamba cell Rugeyo in Kanungu District, was a tailor for many years prior to 2008 when he started a tea nursery bed of 160,000 seedlings.
After a year, he was paid Shs40m because each seedling was bought by government at Shs250.
He used the proceeds to establish a larger tea nursery bed with a capacity of 600,000 seedlings. From this, he earned Shs150m, which he invested in a tea nursery bed of more than three million seedlings. For these, the government paid him Shs780m.
“Since then, my life changed; I bought a personal car Toyota Landcruiser to ease my movement, and a lorry to carry the seedlings to farmers and the tea leaves to the factory for processing,” Byaruhanga says.
“I have been able to buy about 750 acres of land, which I planted with tea. Now I get about Shs22m every month from selling tea leaves and I employ 46 people whom are paid a wage of Shs6,000 per day.”
He is grateful for the initiative to introduce tea in the area “because it contributes to the economy of our region, and I employ others thus making their lives better.”
Byarugaba also reveals that he has raised a tea nursery bed of 4.5 million seedlings and he expects to get Shs2.02b before the end of this year since the price of each tea seedling is now at Shs450.
The 30,000-member Nkuringo Community Conservation Development Foundation in 2009 resolved to plant tea on a 17km stretch of the buffer zone to prevent the animals from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park from raiding their crops.
The chairman, Fidel Kanyamunyu, explains: “We partnered with Kigezi Highland Tea Company and planted tea in the buffer zone [about 1500 acres]. We hope to become a billionaire community group in the next few years when we begin harvesting. One can earn about Shs300,000 from one acre of tea per month.”
He added that they abandoned the idea of constructing a permanent wall to separate them from the park because it did not make as much sense as the tea.
Establishing a tea plantation in the buffer zone would provide a long-term solution keeping wildlife away from the community’s crop gardens. The tea plants are planted close to each other in rows on a width of about 150 metres.
Kanyamunyu notes, “The members shall also benefit from the sale of the tea. As many as 6,000 people are already employed in the tea plantation in the buffer zone. They earn Shs5,000 to Shs10,000 depending on their skills.”
Fr Loius Turyamureba , the parish priest, at Macuro in Kanungu District, has turned about 700 acres of church land into tea plantations.
There are about 300 workers employed; on average, their wages come to Shs3m per week. He collects about 1,000 kilogrammes of tea leaves daily. Each kilogramme is Shs330 .
“Because of being employed on different tea gardens and some of the workers have their own gardens. The standard of living has improved in the rural communities. Several achievements are visible in my parish because of tea growing,” he points out.
The future plans include using the money generated from tea to construct churches with permanent structure after removing the semi-permanent ones. This is also construction of a major hospital at Macuro, which will be equipped with modern health equipment and have trained health workers.
The other is setting up primary and secondary schools to provide quality education for the children in the area.
“Constructing a hotel is also in our plan so that we can provide services to the tourists that pass through here going to Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth national parks,” Fr Turyamureba says.
This example of utilising church land is being followed elsewhere. Bishop Dan Zoreka of Kinkiizi Diocese reveals that they have started with planting tea on 100 acres of the church land.
The major objective is to create an avenue to generate income to run the church development activities. He adds that all the land shall be planted with tea because it has proved to be a profitable venture.
“Offertories collected from sub-counties where people are involved in tea growing is better than those collected from areas where tea not grown,” Bishop Zoreka observes.
“We are encouraging others to get involved in tea growing because it has proved to be one of the ways of fighting poverty and wealth creation among the rural communities.”
Frank Byaruhanga, the chairman of tea nursery bed operators in seven districts in south western Uganda, says the Shs350m he earned from tea seedlings in 2008 made a turning point in his life.
“I used part of the money to establishing another nursery bed where I got Shs680m. The third time I re-invested about Shs400m into a bigger nursery bed where I was paid Shs1.3b,” says Byaruhanga who is also a councilor for Mpungu Sub-county, Kanungu District.
“One of my nursery beds in Kitumba, Kabale District has 2.7million seedlings. So far, I have several others in the districts of Kabale, Kanungu, Kisoro, Ntungamo, Rukungiri, Mitooma and Isingiro.”
From the proceeds from tea seedlings, he is constructing a modern hotel in Kanungu and bought more acres of land which he has planted with tea.
“A total of 2,780 workers are employed on my several nursery beds in the region. Each of them is paid a wage of Shs6,000 per day,” he says.
Byaruhanga reveals that the government has supported tea growing in the region; Shs70b has been spent in Kabale, Kisoro and Kanungu since 2008.
A total of 784 nursery bed operators have been registered in Kabale, Kisoro, Kanungu, Rukungiri, Mitooma, Ntungamo and Isingiro districts. So far, between these there are 384million tea seedlings which government has committed to buy as soon as possible.
“The Ministry of Finance has been directed to release Shs220b for the purchase of all the tea seedlings from the farmers. The Uganda Wildlife Authority is to allow us plant tea at the boundaries of national parks to prevent wild animals from raiding people’s gardens,” Byaruhanga adds.
The five privately owned tea-processing factories in Kanungu District have provided a ready market for the local tea farmers.
Kigezi Highland Tea Company in partnership with government has finalised a deal to construct a factory in the tea-growing districts to processed tea.
Spur the economy
Kabale district chairman Patrick Besigye Keihwa highlights plans to turn utilise the public land for tea plantations. This will provide supplementary income for the local councils instead of them relying only on government funds.
“We established a demonstration tea garden in Rubaya Sub-county. We are utilising 45 acres of the government land in that sub-county and in the near future, it shall be generating significant income from tea,” Keihwa states.
“Negotiations are on-going to ensure that government land at all sub counties, schools and health centres is used for income generation.”
He also appeals to the farmers in this hilly region to use plant tea along terrace bunds to check soil erosion and prevent landslides. Along with this, swamps and other wetlands can be turned into tea gardens.
He argues that Rwanda is earning substantial income from the tea plantations in the former Murindi wetland.
It is estimated that a farmer can earn as much as Shs350,000 per month from an acre of tea, which is well maintained. Therefore, as tea growing takes root in the Kigezi region, it can only be a boon to the local economy.
Tea production: the advantage of smallholders
In Africa, Uganda is the third leading producer and exporter of tea (45,000 metric tonnes) after Kenya (295,000 metric tonnes) and Malawi (55,000 metric tonnes). Tea produced in Uganda is of a medium quality tea primarily used in blends with premium quality teas, such as those from Kenya.
The crop is grown by large estates (46 per cent of production) and small growers organised as either small estates affiliated with particular tea factory or small scale outgrowers producing 54 per cent of the tea.
Approximately the outgrowers produce 28 per cent of the total production of tea with the remaining 72 per cent produced by the tea estates.
Presently, outgrowers have increased from 11,000 to 14,000 with tea growing expanded to Kabale in western Uganda in 2008. The current trend in Uganda is for growth in the number of smallholders. Tea appears to be very attractive to smallholders providing work and income throughout the year, requires little investment, and the risk of disastrous crop failure is fairly low.
Additional source: FAO