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Lack of tea research has kept Uganda tea quality inferior

By Patrick Kagenda

Roger Siima, General Manager of Mpanga Growers Tea Factory, talked to The Independent`s Patrick Kagenda about the tea industry in Uganda and how it fits in the growing regional competition.’

When do you start your day?

My day starts a bit early at about 6:00am. This is the training that I received from parents during upbringing. I like getting to office as early as 7:30a.m with taking a walk around the tea factory and going through the tea processing line. This enables me look at the quality of the raw material received the previous day and quality of the final product.

What are the challenges you are facing?

There are a number of challenges facing the tea industry in Uganda and these affect Mpanga tea factory too. One of the biggest challenges is lack of a tea authority or board and active tea research in the country. Lack of tea research has kept Uganda tea quality inferior and farmers are continuing to plant low quality and poor yielding plantlets. The authority that would attract financing and regulate the tea industry poses a big threat. The ever increasing cost of energy coupled with numerous power outages and fuel shortage is another challenge. Once the raw material has reached the factory, processing has to start immediately and it can only start with running factory machinery using power. Labour shortage is getting high; tea farming is a labour intensive activity that requires a lot of workers for tea picking and other agronomic activities. The labour force to carry out these activities is getting scarce as farmers and plantation owners expand their gardens. Transport to access the market at Mombasa is quite expensive. We transport our final product by road to Mombasa auction market.

The auction market itself is a challenge, most of the time prices keep fluctuating and at times they go below the cost of production.’Our influence on the auction market is insignificant. The availability of agro- inputs and their prices have gone up and are a challenge to the tea industry. These inputs are not available locally as they are all imported into the country and depend on what is happening globally.

How are you resolving these challenges?

The tea research and the authority require concerted efforts of the whole industry. Platform has been created through Uganda Tea Association to spearhead the revival of the tea research. The challenge of power and fuel shortage is quite big. We hope the government will address this problem. Otherwise transport to Mombasa will remain a problem.’We also hope the government will revive the railway transport, which would be a big relief to the tea industry in Uganda.

How are you addressing the growing competition in the tea manufacturing sector?

The stifling competition and mainly selling through the International Auction Market is being addressed by strategically positioning ourselves in the following areas; we are certified as a Fairtrade Producer and’this has opened up markets for our product – Black CTC tea. We are fully certified by Uganda National Bureau of Standards as a producer of Black CTC tea in Uganda. In order to strengthen the organisation and become competitive we have gone for certification in food safety.’We are among the first factories in Uganda to be certified under Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP). We have diversified and introduced on the local market our packed tea as Mpanga Premium Tea. We have started the process of gaining an international accreditation, that’s ISO 22000:2005.

What impact will the EAC Common Market have on your tea?

The East African Community is a big opportunity to the tea industry.’This will address a number of tariff barriers that have been making Uganda tea less competitive.’We have been selling internationally and the local tea consumption within the East African Countries is still on a small scale.

How are you addressing’the issue of counterfeit teas on the market?

Counterfeit teas on the market are being fought through sensitisation of consumers.’The risks of food safety are becoming critical to every Ugandan.’Counterfeit teas are adulterated and pose a big threat to human health.

What new innovations are coming up at Mpanga Growers Tea Factory?

We continually look at bringing new ideas in the organisation and a policy of rewarding best innovator is in the offing.’Currently we have been working on the Energy Efficiency and Environment Conservation through partnership with the British Council under the AKTP Project. We are in partnership with Geo-Fairtrade, which is mapping the farmers’ gardens.’This shall enable consumers of Mpanga’s tea to trace its source in Uganda through Google Earth.

This shall be a big tool towards management information system for the company. Through this partnership we are developing indicators that we shall continue monitoring as the company grows. We are in the process of changing from analogue weighing of farmers green leaf to digital weighing.’

What’s your style of management and who are your mentors to successful management practices?

I strongly believe in team work and listening to every player in the organisation.’The points that make big differences come from down. I’m always open to new ideas and I like putting new ideas into action. My biggest mentor is my late father Nyansio Mugabo and Uncle Rubaihayo Gilbert.’

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