Lamwo, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Numerous grades of tobacco, language barrier, and inadequate storage facilities are limiting farmers in Lamwo district from earning a fair amount from their harvests.
There is an estimated 1,000 tobacco farmers in Lamwo district. They grow and sell tobacco to Meridian Tobacco Company-MTC, the sole company buying tobacco in the district. Sisto Okello, one of the tobacco farmers in Palabek Gem sub county in Lamwo district says that the price of tobacco per kilogram has not changed for the last six years yet the prices of inputs keep rising.
Okello says the price for first-grade tobacco is Shillings 7,000 and the lowest grade goes for Shillings 300. He proposes that the top grade should go for Shillings 10,000. He says even with the grading system, the company uses an average method to buy tobacco after physical inspection.
According to Okello, there are nine tobacco grades but MTC has split the grades to 25, way above the 11 grades used by the British American Tobacco Company back then. Okello says there are only nine tobacco grades To1, To2, To3, then Mo1, Mo2, and MoM and Bo1, Bo2, and BB.
Eveline Angee, a tobacco farmer in Kamama village, Moroto parish in Palagek Gem sub-county argues the price of tobacco per kilogram should be increased because tobacco growing needs a year of concentration yet a farmer realizes a single harvest.
This she says does not give them time to plant other crops. She explains that this year, she was given an average price of Shillings 2,800 per kilogram yet she expected between Shillings 4,800-5,000.
Thomas Komago, a farmer in India village, Gem Parish in Palabek Gem sub county always says that the company has one store in the whole district and restricts their purchase to only four tonnes a day. Komago says because of the storage problem and low price, some farmers have chosen to transport their tobacco to Gulu so that their produce does not lose its grade.
The farmers attribute the low price and poor grading of their harvest to language problems since they don’t speak good English as the buyers are non-Acholi speaking people.
Attempts to get a comment from the area manager of MTC were futile as another person kept answering her phone, saying she was busy. Tom Anguyo, a manager of West Nile Cooperative Union which deals in tobacco reveals that tobacco grades keep changing almost yearly and it varies from company to company.
He argues that the companies normally split tobacco grades to minimize the price and maximize profits.
There were an estimated 75,000 farmers relying on tobacco by 2014, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.