Tea farmers decry high prices of fertilisers

SHEEMA – Tea-out growers in Sheema and other districts continue to ponder over the increasing prices of fertilisers and herbicides, saying unless government intervenes they will not be able to boost production of the cash crop.

The increase in the prices of fertilisers has greatly affected most tea farmers in the districts of Sheema, Buhweju, Bushenyi, Fort Portal, Kabale, Kanungu, and Kisoro.

This was revealed during the launch of Kyeihara Tea Estate in the remote hilly areas of Nyaruhanga East village, Kyeihara parish, Kasaana Sub-county in Sheema South Constituency.

While speaking of the high prices of fertilisers and herbicides in the country, some farmers testified that they had abandoned tea growing, adding that the impassable roads make it hard for them to transport their green tea leaves to distant factories in Igara and Buhweju.

Apollo Buzare, who owns 70 acres of tea, said he spends over Shs 27 million on fertiliers and chemicals every six months so that he can harvest quality yields.  He said a 50-kilogramme [kg] bag of fertiliser from Igara Tea Factory costs Shs 130,000, adding that an acre of tea requires about 150 kgs bag of fertilier, applied twice.

He wants government to subsidise the price of fertilisers so that farmers can buy a 50-kg bag at Shs 80,000, He also wants government to subsidise the price of herbicides, even though he did not name the current price of weed-killing chemicals like 2,4-D, Amine, Glyphosate, and Twiga among others.

Onesmus Matsiko, the interim board chairperson Uganda Tea Out-growers Association [UTOA] said fertiliser application is required to nourish the tea leaves so that they fetch high prices offered at the Mombasa Tea Auction which sells teas from nine African countries, totaling about 20 percent of the world’s exports.

“Recommended fertiliser for tea is NPK 25; 5;5. Farmers are supposed to apply it during the rainy season, meaning that in Uganda where we have two rainy seasons, we apply twice,” he said.

According to Matsiko, a hectare of tea plantation requires six 50-kg bags of NPK. He said before the Russia-Ukraine war, a 50-kg bag of NPK in Uganda used to go for Shs 120,000 but now costs as high as Shs 250,000 in some places.

Russia and Ukraine are the major producers of fertilisers in the world and now economic sanctions mean Russia is not exporting much of the fertilisers.

Wilbert Abahaire, one of the agro-chemical dealers in Mbarara said during Covid-19 lockdown, prices of fertilisers like Daku, NPK, Urea, and CAN rose to Shs 240,000 per 50-kg bag from Shs 130,000.

He appealed to agro companies to reduce the prices which he said have pushed away farmers and some of the dealers in the business.

“Since Covid-19, our sales have drastically reduced because farmers no longer buy the chemicals and other inputs,” says Abahaire.

Rodgers Betunga, another agro-input dealer, claimed that the increase in prices of fertilisers is a result of government taxes, even though Matsiko said government does not tax fertilisers as a strategy to boost agricultural production.

Rodgers Betunga at his agro-chemical shop in Mbarara (Photo by Joshua Nahamya).

“I have been in the industry for decades; Uganda’s policy has been very supportive they don’t tax fertilisers, people who are shouting that government is taxing fertilisers don’t know what they are talking about,” Matsiko said.

Matsiko however encouraged the government to subsidise the prices of fertilisers to enable many farmers to venture into tea growing. “Government of Uganda should borrow a leaf from Kenya where there is a 30 percent subsidy on fertilisers…which has boosted tea production.”

He said complacency among players is killing the tea industry in Uganda, calling for a tea policy to regulate the quality and standard of tea production.

“We are getting less than half of the money we should be getting from the international market. So if we can apply the right fertilisers as a country our production can double without even increasing new areas or acreage,” he said

Last year, Uganda produced 82 million kgs of tea from 44 hectares.

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