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    Tea Workers Appeal For Pay Rise, Safety

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    Workers in the tea sector across the country have appealed to the government and their employers to increase their pay as a measure to improve their welfare.

    Tea sector workers told Grapevine that they are least paid despite having economic times affecting the entire world, which calls for a minimum wage. Paddy Twesigomwe, one of the workers, said there is need for better policies to ensure the welfare of tea workers.

    “There is a need to respect labour and workers. As workers, we are asking for fair wages as an appreciation for our labour. The economy is bad, the prices of commodities are high but the wages are low” he said.

    Twesigomwe, also a workers’ leader, added, “We do not want strikes but we believe in dialogue. We appeal to the government to put in place the tea policy to harmonise costs and revenues in the tea sector.”

    Other plantation workers said that the herbicides used in plantations and the agro-chemicals used are dangerous especially to women which calls for use of safety gears. The workers said that there is a need to implement the health and safety measures in plantations for the good of workers.

    “Workers should be given safety gears and there must be facilities to protect workers from dangerous chemicals as they work for better quality tea” he said.

    The workers made the remarks while celebrating the belated labour day and the international tea day at Ankole Tea Estates Premises at Kyamuhunga in Bushenyi District. Advocacy organisations, Solidaridad East Africa and Trust Africa in partnership with the National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers, Uganda organized the event with the view of increasing awareness about the benefits in the tea sector among the workers.

    Alfred Mubangizi, the Solidaridad East Africa official described the workers as the heart of the tea industry that needs to be looked after carefully if the industry is to survive

    “We pledge to continue working with the workers union, private sector and government to create a sustainable and prosperous tea sector that benefits all stakeholders through supporting the creation of sound policies, facilitating multi stakeholder dialogue platforms and strengthening workers and farmers organisations” he said.

    Robert Balikenda, the human resource manager McLeod Russel, Uganda Limited said that the company gives utmost importance to the hard work of every employee and believes in giving all employees equal rights and that the workers are not taken for granted.

    “The fact is that no company can flourish or even exist without labour. Companies should ensure that, other than following the 8 hours of work, labour or employees are not discriminated against on the basis of tribe, race, gender and or disability and should be paid competitive wages or salary” he said.

    Balikenda however observed that while the minimum wage is a legal earning for workers, there is a risk of creating unemployment as firms cannot afford to employ workers.

    “Firms may become uncompetitive. In some cases, a higher minimum wage could push up costs causing a firm to go out of business because they may not be able to afford wage costs. This might be a particular problem if the firm is competing in a global market and higher wage costs make them uncompetitive compared to low-wage cost countries” he explained.

    He said that the minimum wage as requested by the tea workers could cause cost-push inflation, black market of labour and that it could lead to limited impact on relative poverty. According to Balikenda, tea is a major crop across the world employing millions of people hence the need to celebrate labour day because without labour there is no tea even when there is mechanisation.

    About lack of safety equipment, Mr Balikenda blamed the lack of safety gears to theft among them workers whom he accused of selling them to outsiders. While presiding at the event, Bushenyi DPC John Bosco Sserunjogi said that there is a need to celebrate and appreciate the workers because they are the engine of social -economic transformation of the society.

    He asked the workers to love and protect their jobs as well as minimize conflicts relating to payments for the good of the society. “We support the need for better policies and we appeal for more processing of tea with additional value to ensure better prices for the benefit of workers” said Sserunjogi who represented the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Robert Atuhaire.

     

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    FARMING

    Farmers In Jubilation As Carbon Credit Payments Kick Off In Sebei Region

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    A section of coffee farmers from the eastern region of Sebei have been paid for practicing agroforestry at the launch of carbon credit payments in the country.

    The project seeks to support farmers to mitigate the negative effects of Climate Change in their respective communities and the country as a whole.

    At least 1000 farmers underwent a pilot assessment leading to the payment of 368 farmers who qualified for the carbon credits in Sebei and Bugisu sub regions.
    Officials from Solidaridad East and Central say that the money that the farmers are going to receive is to support their families and also re-invest in agroforestry to increase their annual reward under the programme dubbed ‘from Climate Victims to Climate heroes.’

    The project targets 50,000 smallholder coffee farmers in Kenya and Uganda to increase coffee production as well as mitigating Climate change effects through carbon farming.

    Joseph Maberi, a project associate with Solidaridad East and Central Africa said that the payment is given under the project code named “from Climate Victims to Climate Heroes” that targets farmers who practice agroforestry. The project seeks to promote carbon farming, carbon pre-financing and carbon trading.

    “We want to see farmers practice smart agriculture on their coffee gardens whereby they plant trees on their coffee gardens that complement the coffee and also support them with firewood when they grow,” said Maberi.

    He added that under carbon pre-financing, there are farmers who have coffee but they do not have trees in them, so the project is going to support them to procure seedlings that are going to be shades in their coffee gardens.

    According to Maberi, with carbon credit, when the farmers practice carbon farming or coffee agroforestry, their trees and coffee take in carbon; “When you see a tree growing in size, it means it takes in carbon and releases oxygen for human beings. The carbon that the trees take in, is what affects climate change.”

    “When the farmers plant trees and coffee, they grow and our partners; Acorn and RaboBank carry out assessment of the amount of carbon called Carbon reduction Units (CRUs) that has been taken in and they do this by use of satellite and transfer the data and each tonne of carbon produced, a farmer is paid some money called carbon credits,” he said.

    Rabo Bank Accounts manager Margret Muiebelt commended the farmers and disclosed that the arrangement would soon start carbon harvesting to yield more economic benefits.

    She added that the project is implementing agroforestry due to its benefits to unlock the carbon market for farmers adopting the carbon farming.

    “The trees that you will plant or have recently planted will take up carbon from the atmosphere, store it in their trunks and branches and they release oxygen that we need. The stored within the trees are actually the carbon credits,” she said.

    She said that each year, farmers will be compensated for the growth of the carbon but warned that if the trees are cut, they would stand to lose the payments until the trunks regenerate.

    “We have completed the first cycle of tree planting, measuring the growth in carbon, selling these Microsoft and paying out the proceeds to the farmers on whose plots this growth was measured,” she said at the launching of the carbon credits payment in Kapchorwa District.

    William Toboswo of Kapchesi village in Kween District, one of the beneficiaries of the programme said that the benefits in agroforestry are far beyond his expectation yet he planted trees to provide shade for his garden.

    Joseph Maberi a project associate of Solidaridad (right) with William Toboswo a beneficiary in Kween District.

    “By getting this chance, I got encouraged and I will mobilise my neighbours to do the same to improve our climate. When you intercrop, the trees provide shade and the leaves become a mulch for the coffee and my coffee production has since gone up,” said the 68-year-old farmer.

    Toboswo said: “I started in the programme in 2021 and from this arrangement, the coffee yields have gone up, I get firewood, timber for construction and fencing my farm and also I have been supported to plant more trees which has resulted in payment. It has reduced the cost of weeding the garden and I intend to sensitise many people to also tap into these benefits.”

    Mirika Khisa, another beneficiary farmer from Kween District narrated that when she started intercropping coffee with trees, she realized increased harvests in addition to firewood from the trees as well as manure from the leaves that fall from the trees.

    “With the trees, the coffee plants does not get a lot of heat, pruning is also easy and it has simplified the farming, it has helped me to reduce on the rate at which coffee bellies fall, it has reduced on the heat affecting my other crops, the environment is cool,” she said.

    Khisa further revealed that her household income increased and as a result, her livelihood has also improved in that she is currently constructing a new house resulting from the income I get from coffee after increased production

    “My coffee harvest increased from 10 to 18 bags a year from my 2-acre piece of land. These trees are a benefit to me, I do waste a lot of time looking for firewood, I get poles to fence my garden to prevent encroachers.”

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    FARMING

    Gov’t Finalizes Plan To Regulate Tea Industry

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    Government has developed a policy to regulate the tea industry and to address challenges affecting the tea sub sector in the country.

    The ministries of Agriculture and that of trade developed the National Tea Policy to guide tea production, processing and to support diversification of products of tea being produced.

    The policy that awaits to be submitted to the Cabinet focuses on improving access to quality agro–inputs including tea seedlings, fertilizers and herbicides, enhancing the use of modern technologies informed by research and extension services.

    It also seeks to institute measures to improve harvesting, post-harvest handling and value addition, strengthening the infrastructure for the Tea industry including establishing factories and other requisite machinery, improving access to affordable power supply, financial and insurance services, enhancing market access, advocacy, education, information and communication services among others.

    Government officials say that the The Tea industry has a higher potential to contribute more to the national economy, employment creation, and environmental conservation.

    Once approved, the Tea Policy will be developed as a commercial enterprise and an instrument to fight poverty through gainful agricultural employment where more investments shall be made at the lower stages of the value chain and majority of the tea stakeholders are engaged to ensure they are employed gainfully in ways that elevate household incomes and alleviate poverty.

    The policy seeks to promote improved tea research and extension service delivery, establishment of Tea Farmer Associations and Credit Cooperatives, expansion of the area under tea and gap filling in existing tea plantations as well as increase tea processing capacity and value addition.

    State Minister for Agriculture Maj. (rtd) Fred Bwino Kyakulaga said that the policy seeks to promote issues of quality because the market demands are enormous.

    “The consumers are demanding a lot of quality innovations, so we hope that by formulating this policy, we shall be able to address that gap and achieve the consumer demands,” Kyakulaga said.

    Kyakulaga was speaking at the validation of the National tea Policy meeting held in Kampala.

    About the fertilizers, Kyakulaga allayed fears of the farmers saying that the president has since recognized the demand by various farmers for subsidy and hence it will be considered.

    Development partner organizations; TrustAfrica and Solidaridad East and Central Africa in partnership with the Ministries of Agriculture and that of trade organized the tea policy validation meeting held in Kampala.

    Dr Bethule Nyamambi, the Programme Manager at TrustAfrica also representing Solidaridad East and Central Africa described the validation of the draft National Tea Policy as a milestone in the tea sector.

    She said that through their Reclaim Sustainability programme, the organisations are working with all those in the tea sector to foster inclusive and sustainable value chains and trade in an innovative way.

    Dr Bethule said that the arrangement seeks to encourage an enabling policy environment in which the interests, voices and rights of all stakeholders including those of farmers, women, workers and citizens are represented and heard in decision making.

    “The policy that has meaningfully consulted all the players in the sector will have meaningful sector changing impact, have ownership, and the sector will able rights and interests of producers and workers and citizens impact and gain results in improving decent working conditions, sustainable natural resource management, achieving fair value for all in the value chains,” she explained.

    Onesmus Matsiko, the chairperson of Uganda Tea Outgrowers Association (UTOA) said the tea policy came out of a regulatory vacuum. He explained that following the liberation of the economy, the old laws of tea became obsolete but the tea industry acreage has grown from about 20,000 hectares in the year 2001 to currently over 45,000 hectares of tea with massive production where tea farmers dominating tea production and small holder farmers own more than 70 percent of Uganda’s tea acreage.

    “Farmers grow tea and sell to factories which they do not own and the environment of tea growing and purchase is not regulated hence we have lost the fertilizer supply mechanism where tea farmers do not access fertilisers and the acreage talked about is yielding less than half of the potential,” he said.

    According to Matsiko, the tea industry has lost quality control capacity where Uganda tea quality is suffering and that on the international scene, Ugandan tea sells the least amount of about $1 compared to our Kenya counterparts who sold at an average of $2.2 and Rwanda sold at $2.4 per Kilogramme as of last week.

    “Uganda’s tea is selling at less than half of our neighbouring countries because our quality control has crashed, there is no regulation, our national acreage is giving half of its potential. Even without giving anymore seedlings, we can at minimum double Uganda’s tea production but all this needs the facilitation, coordination, guidance of the national team policy,” he added

    Matsiko also the General manager of Mabale Growers Tea Factory in Kabarole District said that he was part of the policy draft team said that the policy covers the agriculture, tea processing and the tea trade components.

    Why tea Policy
    Currently, Tea is the third agricultural export earner in the Country, earning over $85M (BOU,2022). In the economy, Tea contributes about 1.6 percent of Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product and provides 11 percent of the national employment.

    Although the tea sector greatly contributes to exports and the national economy, the sector is faced with Low production, low quality of tea and limited competitiveness of the Tea products in the regional and international market.

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    FARMING

    GOOD NEWS FOR FARMERS: Shs3.8tn To Be Saved As Uganda Biotechnology Scientists Help Solve Ticks Problem…

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    Dr. Fredrick Kabi (L), on the right is a cow that has been affected by ticks

    Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (UBBC) scientists led by Dr. Frederick Kabi, the leading principal investigator in the fight to develop the anti-tick and tick borne disease vaccine has saved Ugandans from spending Shs3.8tn on buying acaricide, establishing measures to control ticks and treating their animals from deadly ticks.

    During a meeting with the media held at BioCafe, convened by Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE) and UBBC with support from the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS),  UBBC scientists disclosed that their goal is to create innovations and research on Biotechnology for socio-economic transformation and climate change resilience.

    Dr. Kabi, who is the Principal Research Officer (PRO) in NARO based at National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NaLIRRI) disclosed that Scientists use living things or parts of living things to make useful products that benefit mankind and the environment.

    In agriculture, UBBC innovations are often used in combination with conventional breeding to develop improved plant varieties.

    In an engagement with Online media journalists, Dr. Kabi revealed that since childhood, he has been thinking about how he could use his knowledge to solve the ticks problem after establishing that 80% of cattle mostly in Africa are at risk of ticks and tick borne diseases.

    He explained that when he started the project of manufacturing the anti-tick vaccines ten years back, he was helped by other scientists to meet President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who was very happy with their initiative.

    “President Museveni has been very supportive and we thank him as scientists for the achievement we have had. The vaccination has passed the trial stage and very soon, the vaccine is going to be on the market and we are very sure that the president and all herdsmen around the country whose animals were being finished off by ticks are going to get peace.” Dr. Kabi said.

    He added that according to his research, Ugandans have been spending between Shs2.5-3.8tn annually on fighting ticks using high cost treatments and control measures which in turn affect their animals’ productivity and the market.

    He explained that if his vaccine goes onto the market, farmers are going to stop using the acaricide to kill ticks because they have lost the potency due to their longevity of over 100 years in use.

    Dr. Kabi added that acaricide is not only costly to a farmer but also affects the environment and leads to food contamination and death of non-targeted life through meat and milk.

    He said that Uganda is not going to be the first country to use vaccination to kill ticks. He gave examples of Cuba and Austria who started vaccinating their animals as early as 1939.

    “Vaccines are safe, organic and more sustainable for tick control and this has been established by the National Drug Authority (NDA) and other drug regulatory bodies which permitted the conducting of continued field trials,” Dr. Kabi said.

    He added that their trial were carried out on cattle breeds of Friesians, Boram and Ankole cattle which were heavily affected by ticks and exercise took 360 days covering all climate seasons in areas of North East Uganda, Northern Uganda, Ankole, Bunyoro among others.

    He added that the research is still ongoing now at field stage of vaccine trials on animals at NARO’s Mbarara Zonal Agricultural Research and Development (MbaZARDI).

    Dr. Kabi said that in their observation during the trials, they established that there was no adverse effect associated with the trials.

    For the 360 days, they only used the vaccine and did not use acaricide, but the ticks were successfully managed.

    He revealed that since their trials succeeded, farmers’ lives have changed because their cattle are now free from ticks and the productivity is high which has saved farmers who were dying of stress caused by ticks which killed their animals.

    Dr. Kabi thanked president Museveni for the new modern technology equipment which he procured for them to help them during their research and innovation.

    Dr. Andrew Kiggundu the UBBC president pleaded with the concerned authorities to speed up the process of enacting a law to legalise UBBC work because it will help the world’s growing population which currently stands at eight billion.

     

    By Sengooba Alirabaki

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