I am in total agreement with Francis Nyanzi, who in these pages recently expressed doubts about the intentions of government enacting laws to register coffee farmers, especially justifying it on so-called traceability, a notion introduced into trade by importers mostly from the EU a few decades ago to massage the egos of their increasingly safety and health over-conscious consumers.
Unfortunately, there is absolutely no chance today that the coffee beans from the average Ugandan farmer can be traced along the value chain up to a consumer in Brussels or London without that coffee’s price ballooning through the ceiling.
I will explain. There are 1.7 million households producing our total exports of about 4 million 60kg bags annually. That means the average household produces just 2.35 bags annually. Now a fairly small export consignment (truckload) will be of the order of 25 tonnes or 417 bags. That consignment will require aggregation of coffee from up to 177 coffee farming households!
So if a weevil carrying bean is found in the consignment at Antwerp Harbour in Belgium, to which farm of the 177 households will that weevil be traced? Of course, it is possible to trace beans to every farm, but that would require that every 2.35 bags are milled, bagged and (as the Agriculture minister has intimated) assigned a barcode all separately.
But the coffee would reach Antwerp at perhaps 2,000 times the present price and no Belgian will afford it, delicious and traceable though it will be.
But returning to registration, I was chatting with a professional colleague on this matter and he argued that he saw no wrong in registration itself. His gripe was with the old silos mentality government tends to adopt. Soon after the coffee registration thing came out of the ministry, another ministry department was proposing birth certificates for newly born calves also in the name of traceability.
Next it will perhaps be pigs, fish, and vanilla, then cotton, then maize, potatoes, mangoes, etc. You get the idea. Why not register farmers, full stop? And why not do it as part of the 10-year population census? Okay.
I know. It is not the mandate of Uganda Bureau of Statistics to do so and it takes money away from us with what all that means.
H. G. K. Nyakoojo,