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New coffee act splits stakeholders

Katikkiro of Buganda CP Mayiga inspects a coffee farm. New tough regulations are out to control sector

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The National Coffee Act 2021, gazetted on Monday this week, has sparked a huge debate, with many questioning several provisions in it.

The new law repeals and replaces the 29-year old Uganda Coffee Development Authority Act, Cap. 325, and is meant to respond to the current needs and future goals of farmers.

According to the Uganda Coffee Development authority, the old law only covered off-farm activities of marketing and processing while on-farm activities like planting materials, nurseries, harvesting and post-harvest handling were outside its mandate.

“The Coffee Act will help address new developments, advances and challenges in the sector including: Coffee research, extension services, farmer organisations and climate change,” says UCDA Managing Director Emmanuel Iyamuremye, adding that regulation of on-farm activities is progress in the right direction.

“UCDA will regulate all on and off farm activities in coffee value chain, all coffee farmers to register with UCDA at no cost and they will be issued with an identification number.”

UCDA has also clarified that farmers will not be licensed, but will be registered to help government maintain accurate data on the industry for planning and monitoring purposes. However, the law places strict measures with penalties, on ‘after-farm’ activities on the coffee value chain.

According to the Act, “a person shall not operate a pulpery, buy coffee, grade coffee, roast coffee, brew coffee, operate a coffee shop or coffee store, a warehouse of coffee huller or process or export coffee on a commercial basis without a license issued by UCDA.”

“Coffee is a beverage and should conform to required health/safety standards. The quality of coffee, machines used by the processors/brewers/baristas must not compromise the health of a consumer. The purpose of licensing is to protect the consumer and ensure standards are adhered to,” says UCDA. Section 53 of the Act provides for a long list of offences which are punishable under the law, including operating an unregistered coffee nursery or seed garden and selling substandard or diseased planting materials.

These will be punished by “a fine mot exceeding one hundred currency points or a term of imprisonment not exceeding four years, or both,” according to the Act.

These penalties will also apply to harvesting of being in possession of immature cherries, poorly stories wet cherries or heaping coffee leading to molding.

Coffee processors and operators of hullers who have no licenses will also be penalized.

The registration will entail capturing details of the size of land, number of coffee trees, particulars of a farmer, coffee buyers, sellers and nursery bed operators. Registration supports the creation of a traceability system that ensures even small holders farmers with microlots can earn premiums from well managed gardens. Microlots are special lots of coffee, selected for their high quality and unique flavour profiles, which Ugandan coffee is known for.

The law will therefore ensure that Uganda’s coffee can easily be identified on the international market. “Coffee buyers and consumers want to know where the coffee they consume comes from, who produces it and what farming practices they employ,” says UCDA in a response to the concerns.

Section of Coffee farmers concerned

Some farmers, including former New Vision CEO Robert Kabushenga, criticized the law as aimed at killing ‘killing the coffee farmer’ through the stiff penalties, before the UCDA clarified that the criticism was based on misinformation in parts of the media. “Just like that, in this one legislation, the Ugandan political establishment & bureaucrats have sentenced the Ugandan coffee sector to death. It is just a matter of time now, ” he said.

However, he also is against the idea that a law can help increase coffee production.

“This is about expanding the powers of UCDA. Everything else you are being told is just blatant obfuscation. I don’t see how a piece of legislation in & of itself leads to increased coffee production. Poor extension services is incompetence not lack of legislation,” Kabushenga says

Coffee factory owners who violate the set standards, “operate without a license or denies access to inspectors will be liable to a fine not exceeding two hundred currency points or a term of imprisonment not exceeding eight years or both.”

“We had the debate. The recommendations included dropping some of the clauses you mentioned. The approved Act took into consideration all the concerns,” says the regulator.  The Uganda Coffee Federation excepts the law to support the coffee industry and increase productivity.

“The National Coffee Act 2021, like reforms in Ethiopia, seeks to preserve & grow the gains made by Uganda –  Robusta’s Birthplace – over the last 30 yrs. We must work together to position ourselves now, not later, for greatness,” says the federation CEO George Byamukama.

Coffee exports shoot up

The new law, according to the federation, will help Uganda’s industry catch up with Ethiopia, Africa’s largest coffee producer. “Our only competitor, Ethiopia, has seen heavy reforms over the last 3-4 years, which include the formation of the Ethiopia Tea and Coffee Industry in 2015 to oversee the sector and birthplace of Arabica Coffee,” he says.

The purpose of the National Coffee Act, 2021 is to facilitate development of a competitive, participatory and sustainable coffee sub sector in accordance with the National Coffee Policy, 2013; to provide for UCDA to regulate, promote and oversee the coffee sub sector; This comes as the annual coffee exports rise to a new high. The UCDA coffee report for August 2021 shows that the month’s exports totaled 700,990 bags valued at 75.09 million dollars, up from 636,458 bags worth 65.24 million dollars in the same month last year.

Coffee exports for 12 months (September 2020-August 2021) totaled 6.41 million bags worth 607 million dollars compared to 5.22 million bags worth 502.24 million dollars in the previous year. This represents an increase of 23% and 21% in both quantity and value respectively.

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