HomeAGRICULTUREBuhweju: Tea farmers demand arrears worth 3 Billion

Buhweju: Tea farmers demand arrears worth 3 Billion

Joshua Nahamya

Tea farmers from the Buhweju district are demanding over 3 billion shillings for the green leaf they supplied to Igara Growers Tea factory in September 2023.

Nicholas Abenaitwe, a tea farmer said “We have supplied millions of green leaf to the factory but surprisingly we have not gotten any pay for four months”.

“We are very much disappointed and embarrassed the way our leaders are taking us for granted,” he said adding that, we have now spent four months without being paid for our green leaf which we have supplied to the factory” Abenaitwe said

He added that the continuous drop of green leaf from 500 up to 200 shillings has also left farmers in an economic crisis thus calling for government intervention.

Some of the elders demanding for their green leaf pay from Igara Growers tea company. Joshua Nahamya

“We are now in an economic crisis because tea has been our only source of income but when a kilo of green leaf dwindles to 200 shillings then the sector leaves us worried that we cannot even pay school fees for our school-going children,” Abenaitwe said

Jonathan Muhanguzi, another tea farmer said that farmers are struggling to pay back the loans they acquired from SACCOs at high interest rates that count.

“We are wondering why the factory sold all our green leaves to the auction market in Mombasa but surprisingly we are now struggling to get money to clear the loans we purchased that we invested in fertilizers, pruning, and weeding,” he said

Muhanguzi encouraged fellow farmers to demand for autonomy of their tea factory from Igara if they wanted to break even.

Kyamuhunga Tea Growers attending a stakeholders meeting on Wednesday at Kyamuhunga Catholic Church. Joshua Nahamya

“We have had extreme and sustained resistance from the people of greater Igara fearing that when Buhweju becomes independent they are going to lose production which is not true in fact if Buhweju becomes independent, farmers from both sides will get better incomes because of properly managed,” Muhanguzi said

He is worried that “if the two factories remain together, they risk collapsing”. “For example, since the Buhweju factory started 10 years ago, we have never had a single profit given to the shareholders,” Muhanguzi said

The farmers unanimously resolved not to supply tea anymore to the factory until their demands were met.

Ronald Rwankangi, the Director of Igara Growers Tea Factory, confirmed that the suppliers of green leaf are demanding but the cost of operation is high compared to the returns thus appealing to farmers to wait for their pay.

“it is true farmers are demanding but we are unable to pay because all the money we receive from the market can only cover some basics like fuel, electricity, and paying the workers but for a short term we need to raise money to pay the farmers,” Rwankangi said

John Bosco Atuhairwe, the Igara Growers Tea Factory field manager, said the crisis has not only affected the production but also workers who are demanding their pay 

“Our capacity is 70,000 kilograms but currently we are only receiving 6000 kilogrammes. We cannot pay farmers in time and even the workers are demanding for November salaries because what we put in the market cannot fetch enough money to pay for all the services” Atuhairwe said

He appealed to the government to give support to the limping tea factories in the area.

Meanwhile, a total of about 20 tea factories have so far closed in western Uganda and farmers are busy uprooting tea shambas with other crops following the low price of green tea in the Mombasa market yet the cost of operation is high considering the electricity bills, salaries of workers, lack of capital for buying farmers’ green tea among others.

These include; Kayonza Growers Tea Factory in Kanungu, Kyamuhunga Tea Company in Bushenyi, Global Village Tea Factory, Ankole Tea Estates Factory, and Swazi Island Tea Company among others.

Igara and Buhweju are two tea processing factories belonging to Igara Grower’s Tea Company Ltd which is owned by small-scale tea farmers in the greater Bushenyi district.

Buhweju tea factory was established in 2006 under a presidential pledge that processes over 17 million kilograms of green leaf per year, with a total of 2,400 shareholders while Igara Grower’s Tea factory has over 7000 shareholders with close to 50 billion turnover.

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