Coffee cooperatives have rejected the proposed move by the Government to have the Uganda Coffee Development Authority(UCDA) register all coffee farmers, saying the move is a duplication of already existing regulations governing the coffee sector.
Clause 26 of the recently mooted National Coffee bill 2018 currently before Parliament provides that the UCDA “shall register all coffee farmers” in Uganda, with the bill defining a coffee farmer as “a person who grows coffee for commercial purposes.”
The Bill has however attracted a chorus of opposition from sections of the public who have accused the government of attempting to disproportionately control the coffee trade.
In particular, actors in the coffee sector have picked issue with clause 28 of the Bill, which empowers UCDA to de-register a farmer if the authority is convinced that he or she has not complied with the terms and conditions of their registration as a coffee farmer.
Coffee cooperatives in particular have criticized the move to register coffee farmers as an unnecessary duplication of the work they’re already doing. David Lukwata, the General Manager of Kibinge Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative told theCooperator that instead of re-registering farmers, UCDA should liaise with cooperatives and get data about coffee farmers from them.
“We have updated systems of information on coffee farmers and we are much willing to offer this information to UCDA if they want the data of coffee farmers to extend different services. We are not against any good move by the government to help coffee farmers, but we do not think the inconvenience of re-registration is warranted,” Lukwata says.
Lukwata also criticized the Bill’s provision that UCDA establish a coffee auction system to act as “an alternative to the day-today selling of coffee.” Although Agriculture Minister Vincent Ssempijja has defended the provision under clause 52 of the bill as intended to offer farmers more market options, Lukwata argues that the move adds another layer of bureaucracy that will inconvenience farmers who opt for that option.
“We have been working with UCDA after buying coffee from farmers and they do the assessing before we export so we do not appreciate the necessity of the auctioning system as suggested in the bill,” Mr Lukwata adds.
He also expressed concern at several other provisions of the Bill, particularly clause 54 which prescribes punishments as long as five years in prison and fines as much as Shs.800,000 for a wide spectrum of defaults from neglecting a coffee farm to exporting coffee without a license.
“Farmers need to be properly sensitized about what for example constitutes an appropriate storage facility, or what proper post-harvest handling of coffee entails, before being sanctioned,” he says.
Under the proposed law, anybody who sets up a store or warehouse that does not meet the requirements for storing coffee and anybody who dries coffee on bare ground risk imprisonment of up to two years and 5years respectively or a fine of up to Shs.800,000 and Shs. 240,000 respectively or both.
Proponents of the Bill led by Mr. Ssempijja insist that the law is intended to strengthen quality controls and streamline the activities along the entire coffee value chain including on-farm activities, as a way of improving the quality of our coffee to command a bigger share of the international market.
Uganda remains Africa’s second-largest producer of coffee after Ethiopia, and last year, according to figures from UCDA, the country exported 4.5million bags of coffee worth $492million and targets to export 20million bags of coffee by 2025.