Inside the Contentious Coffee Bill

Tuesday August 6 2019

A farmer spreads coffee beans for drying in

A farmer spreads coffee beans for drying in South-Western Uganda. A farmer who neglects his garden for two years will be liable to imprisonment for two years if this Bill becomes a law. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA 

By Joanita Mbabazi

Some provisions of the contentious National Coffee Bill 2018, have largely been contested for various reasons. One of the contested clauses is the registration of farmers, which many are mistaking for licensing coffee farmers.

Registration of farmers
One of the key areas of contention in this Bill is the clause on registering farmers which many have mistaken for to enforce the licensing of coffee farmers.
According to Laura Walusimbi, the public relations officer Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), this is not true. The registration of farmers is not about licensing them and it will not stop farmers from selling their coffee or from being members of any association or cooperative.
“The proposed registration of farmers is for the purpose of enhancing planning, traceability and targeting of service delivery. The information compiled will be used to facilitate the provision of services to coffee farmers individually or through their farmer groups or cooperatives,” says Ms Walusimbi.
It is only those who were already in the value chain that will be issued with licences not farmers as stipulated in clause 35 of the National Coffee Bill, 2018 and the licences include: Pulpery operator’s licence, Coffee buyer’s licence, Coffee grading licence for internal marketing, Coffee processor’s licence, Coffee exporter’s licence, Coffee roaster’s licence, Brewers and coffee shop operator’s licence, Coffee store or warehouse operator’s licence and Coffee huller operator’s licence.
Ms Walusimbi says the licences will be renewed annually adding that it is important to note that most of these value chain actors are already being licensed. So this is not new.
According to Clause 36, if the terms and conditions of the licence issued to an exporter are not complied with, the licence may be cancelled, varied or suspended.

Regulating coffee quality
Under the proposed law, UCDA will regulate the quality of coffee from the farm to the market and issue licences to exporters. All issues that affect quality are covered under Clause 54 of the National Coffee Bill 2018, for example, moisture content, immature cherries, and mold among others.
The details for the grades of coffee shall be specified under the regulations. Therefore, any exporter found in possession of low quality coffee will be penalised.
But there is no explanation on what amounts to “low quality coffee.” The Bill also does not place an obligation on government to distribute coffee seedlings across the country.

Neglecting farms
Cooperators need clarity on what the Bill suggests for farmers who neglect their farm. A farmer who neglects his garden for two years will be liable to imprisonment for two years if this Bill becomes a law. This is one the sections of the Bill that has raised eyebrows.

“Taking people to prison for neglecting their farms? It’s their right,” Mr Lukwata queries. He, however, calls for regulation and advising farmers that if they chose to grow coffee for sale, they should uphold the quality needed for the export market.

However, farmers through their umbrella organisation the National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE) welcome the registration of farmers because they do not see anywhere in the Bill specifying that the registration will subject farmers to licensing.

“I read the National Coffee Bill, but I do not see any clause saying that registering farmers will subject them to licensing because licensing is uncalled for. Do farmers get allowances from government to license them?” asked Mr Gerald Ssendaula, the chairperson National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises, adding that farmers should be left to do their job and UCDA should only enforce quality for what they produce.

Mr Ssendaula says the law should have come even yesterday if they country wants to reach the target of 20 million bags by 2020.

Non-compliance
According to Clause 36, if the terms and conditions of the licence issued to an exporter are not complied with, the licence may be cancelled, varied or suspended.

“Everyone in the coffee value chain will be registered. It is not only farmers,” says Ms Walusimbi.
The issue of taxing levy, clause 44 of the Bill says a levy will be on exports only and this will not exceed two per cent on the free on rail or free on truck or any other form of acceptable contract price of the export of coffee.

“A farmer will not be taxed for their produce. Their role is to grow and sell their quality coffee at their will since this is a business,” adds Ms Walusimbi.

When Agriculture Minister Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja introduced the Coffee Bill for the first time to the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture, he said farmers will be registered to ease the accountability for the distribution of material such as fertilizers to farmers and coffee trees. He said they cannot do this without ascertaining the number of coffee farmers that need this help.

“It is not stipulated anywhere in the Bill that farmers will be licensed. It is only registering them and we have them in our data bases. We shall also ease their connection to buyers and avoid being cheated by middle men who buy their coffee cheaply and sell to the buyers at a higher price,” Minister Bamulangaki said.

The Bill, Mr Bamulangaki says, is expected to ensure that Uganda produces quality coffee.
However, cooperators say this is a duplication of registering farmers. According to the Kibinge Coffee Farmer’s Cooperative general manager David Lukwata, what UCDA can do is go to cooperatives and get data from them.

“We have updated systems of information of coffee farmers and we are much willing to offer this information to UCDA if they want a data base of coffee farmers to extend different services and we are not against this because it’s the farmers who have kept them in the business. “We are not against any good move by government to help coffee,” Mr Lukwata says.

Coffee auction
Uganda is a liberal economy and therefore clause 52 of the Coffee Bill which states, “The Authority shall establish a coffee auction system and this shall be an alternative method to the day-to day method of selling coffee.”

Cooperators do not agree to this because this contradicts with the ongoing system of selling coffee. To Mr Lukwata, this shall mean having a board for people to sell their coffee.

“We have been working with UCDA after buying coffee from farmers and they access the markets before we export. So, we are not in agreement with the auctioning system as suggested in the Bill,” Mr Lukwata adds.

Right regulation
Mr Gerald Ssendaula, the chairperson National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises says the law should have come even yesterday if the country wants to reach the target of 20 million bags by 2020.

“There is need to emphasise research an activity which should not be considered as a miscellaneous item but a priority under Ministry of Agriculture. We no longer need seed varieties that take more than two years to flower. All this can be found out through research and UCDA should champion this as early as possible for farmers to get improved seed varieties of coffee to reach this target,” Mr Ssendaula says.

Farmers also propose that UCDA as an Authority in charge of the coffee sector cannot be the over seer of the sector at the same time.

“We suggest there be a coffee regulatory authority body and this should be named as the “Uganda Coffee Regulatory Authority,” says Mr Ssendaula.

“To solve this impasse, we propose two key institutions, one to play the regulatory function and another to play a development function,” says Mr Ssendaula.

If UCDA does the distribution, checks quality of coffee, then there should be an organisation to evaluate all the activities UCDA does. You cannot be a regulator and again check yourself,” adds Mr Ssendaula.

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