News / Africa

    Trouble Brewing for Ugandan Tea Farmers

    Worker uses plucking shears to pick tea, which tends to reduce quality of the finished product, Uganda, Oct. 2, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
    Worker uses plucking shears to pick tea, which tends to reduce quality of the finished product, Uganda, Oct. 2, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
    Tea drinkers around the world brew up tea bags marked “Kenya,” but most of them don't know some of it actually comes from Uganda.
     
    One of the country's most important drivers of revenue, Uganda's tea industry has long been dogged by quality problems, and a further tightening of regulatory standards could spell disaster for the roughly 65,000 Ugandans who manufacture the country's third-largest export, which generates $100 million per year.
     
    But outside Uganda, no one is drinking pure Ugandan tea.
     
    “The quality of Ugandan teas is low. That is a fact, really," says George Ssekitoleko of the Uganda Tea Association, explaining that Ugandan teas are mainly for blending. "When our tea goes to Mombasa, that is the end of it being called Ugandan tea. That is where it disappears. It is all blended with other teas, and it goes out as Kenyan tea, mainly.”
     
    One of the main problems facing Ugandan teamakers, he says, is finding enough workers to pluck tea leaves by hand.
     
    “We have a shortage of labor in this country, and most of our people have resorted to using machines like pluckers instead of manual plucking," he says. "If you are using a machine, it does not select which ones to pluck and which ones to leave. So that is affecting us. I think now every factory is doing that.”
     
    As a result, Ugandan teas fetch two-thirds the price of Kenyan teas at regional auctions in Mombasa - bad business for Ugandan farmers who pay to transport their harvests to Kenyan markets.
     
    In response to complaints from buyers, Kenya recently imposed stricter standards on the quality of tea coming into Mombasa, and, according to Peter Kimanga, president of the East Africa Tea Traders Association, the World Trade Organization is attempting to raise tea standards worldwide.
     
    “You find some of the grades that are being imported into Kenya, in other countries, are not allowed to be exported, like India or Sri Lanka," says Kimanga. "The WTO is trying to insist now that [the standards] should be made compulsory to all tea-producing countries.”
     
    If this happens, he says, it would be a disaster for Ugandan tea, since 25 to 35 percent of it wouldn't meet export quality, cutting off access to the international buyers on whom the Uganda's tea producers depends.
     
    An attitude problem
     
    At a factory near Lugazi, in central Uganda, the Uganda Tea Corporation processes more than one million kilos of tea leaves per year, employing 700 people.
     
    The company's lush green fields are filled with the sound of snipping, as workers use giant plastic scissors known as plucking shears to remove leaves from bushes. Shear plucking - less labor-intensive than hand plucking - tends to snip off more than the two leaves and a bud preferred by tea connoisseurs.
     
    Job Kihara, a manager who has spent more than 20 years in the industry, says that although tea garden work can be grueling, the real problem is the mental attitude of laborers.
     
    “Now getting labor and convincing somebody to come in the morning when it is wet, you are out there in the rain, some look at it as a job which is not dignified," he says. "So until it gains that level whereby it is actually taken as an honorable job, then we will always lack pluckers.”
     
    Because of this, he says, there is little Ugandan tea growers can do to avoid the hated plucking shears.
     
    “We have no alternative but to go the way of machine plucking, shear plucking, just to get the leaf off the table, because as long as its sitting on the table, then it is a loss to the company, the economy, everybody loses at the end of the day," he says. "So when our hands are tied, much as we do not like it, we have got to go that direction.”
     
    The Uganda Tea Association says only 15 percent of suitable tea-growing land in Uganda is in use, giving the industry plenty of room to expand.
     
    But with labor in short supply and quality standards changing, it is difficult to say whether this potential will be realized.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora