Questioning Uganda’s National Coffee Bill

Anyone that has participated in the Agricultural Value chain is fully aware of the various tricks used by the different actors to gain unfairly from the process. You have farmers who contaminate their produce with foreign matter just to ensure that they have more weight upon sale to the traders or middlemen. Then you have middlemen who even upon getting clean produce intentionally introduce foreign matter or come up with other ways to adulterate with the goal of unfairly earning more.

This tendency has affected the coffee value chain so much to the extent of imparting a bad image on the coffee we export. Despite being the second largest producer of coffee in Africa after Ethiopia, Uganda’s coffee attracts much less pay due to quality issues. Factor in the push by government to increase on the national coffee production and you realise that if any benefits are to accrue from this move, the product quality needs to be addressed.

Traceability is defined as the ability to track any food through all stages of production, processing and distribution. It is becoming central towards participation in the global food industry. For Uganda to tap and earn more from its coffee, we need to embrace this concept.

These reasons among others informed the drafting of The National Coffee Bill, 2018. The bill’s objective is to empower the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) to regulate, promote and oversee the coffee sub-sector and to regulate all on-farm and off-farm activities in the coffee value chain.

The desire is to regulate all aspects of the Coffee Value Chain as they each have an impact on product quality. In the current law, the UCDA is only empowered to address off-farm activities like marketing.

A review of the bill elicits both positive and negative emotions in equal measure. Largely, the intentions expressed in the bill are for the betterment of the coffee industry. However, I shall dwell mainly with those areas I found wanting.

The reforms in this bill are aimed at among others to provide for;

Coffee specific extension services by making UCDA responsible for coffee extension services in order to remove ambiguity. I find this as an attempt to duplicate extension services. Already the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) is not doing well in this regard with very paltry extension services statistics. Why would UCDA want to duplicate this functionality and how certain is it that it will have the requisite numbers to meet the nationwide demand of 1.8 million coffee farmers?

In June 2014, the Single Spine Agricultural Extension system spearheaded by MAAIF was operationalised. Its aim was to harmonise and coordinate all extension service delivery in the country in order to address previously observed inefficiencies. One of its key principles is the promotion of institutional efficiency and maximisation of existing technical capacities.

One would then ask, by unbundling from the centralised extension services of MAAIF, what does UCDA intend to achieve? Create a bloated workforce duplicating what is already being done by the primary ministry? 

UCDA to register and promote coffee value chain organisations at various levels of the coffee value chain, that shall lead to the formation of an apex body. This move is good because the best allies in fighting adulteration of produce as well as overall quality control are the value chain organisations. Their foot print in the industry is good enough to kickstart the plans that UCDA has.

For purposes of alignment, the bill defines the following as;

Coffee Farmer – A person who grows coffee for commercial purposes.

Off-Farm – Any activity or process relating to coffee that is carried out outside a coffee farm and includes sorting, drying, storing, processing, grading, transporting, marketing, exporting, roasting, brewing and consumption of coffee.

On-Farm – Any activity or process relating to coffee that is carried out on a coffee farm and includes planting, soil or water management, pest and disease control and harvesting.

One of the purposes of this Act is to regulate all on-farm and off-farm activities in the coffee value chain. I find this quite far fetched especially for the On-Farm activities. There is simply too much detail on each coffee farm for UCDA to effectively monitor. We already noted earlier the paltry state of extension staffing in government. With an estimated number of 1.8 million households engaging in Coffee production, does UCDA have the resources to directly monitor them? Could it be that this clause is aimed at being used for political expediency when the need arises? Are the bill promoters out of touch with the competencies and resource envelope within the Government of Uganda

The bill proposes the licensing and registration of coffee value chain actors, and it states:

Registration of Coffee Farmers

  1. The Authority shall register all coffee farmers in the coffee sub-sector.
  2. A person shall be registered as a coffee farmer on fulfilling the following requirements:
  • he or she shall either be growing coffee at the time of registration or shall have proof of his or her intention to commence growing coffee within a period of six months, from the date of registration; and
  • the Iand where the coffee is grown or is to be grown shall have been evaluated by the Authority and deemed suitable for growing coffee.

If indeed this bill was drafted by adults of sound mind who know how things function in Uganda, do they really believe that UCDA can have the resources to register all the 1.8 million coffee farmers in the country? Isn’t this a ruse aimed at getting the organisation to borrow millions of dollars from donor countries only to end up lining the pockets of a few?

They want to go as far as evaluating the farmland. Let’s be serious. Currently we have a big challenge for soil testing services in the country. I once held a farmer training in Butaleja District and one of the outputs was soil testing by the farmers. To-date (over a year later), they have still failed to access the services from the district extension officials. What magic does UCDA expect to use?

All registered farmers shall receive a coffee farmer’s registration certificate and UCDA shall not charge farmers fees for this registration. This is the most laughable proposition. We have seen the kind of backlog an authority like NIRA faces dealing with ID registrations even after we have paid UGX 50,000. For us to believe that UCDA shall be efficient enough to traverse the country and register all 1.8 million farmers without a surcharge, we could as well believe that we can change the rotation of the earth to make the sun move from West to East. This is a recipe for disaster. Why?

The wait by the farmers for land evaluation could take years implying that they will end up paying bribes to the officials in order to be given priority. Meanwhile, the kind of particulars required from the farmers as spelt out in the bill are quite detailed and second to only those for a national ID. This shall make the process of registration much slower and cumbersome especially when determining acreage or if the land user does not happen to be the land owner.

By the way, there is an option for de-registering farmers. This is what it states:

The Authority may, after being satisfied that a registered coffee farmer has failed to comply with the terms and conditions of registration, strike off the register the name of the coffee farmer.

A coffee farmer aggrieved by the decision of the Authority made under subsection (1), may appeal to the Minister.

UCDA has opted to get as petty as dealing with individual farmers and this alone is likely to hog down its operational efficiency. The proposal to drag in a Minister to deal with the registration of individual farmers clearly shows that whoever drafted this document has no appreciation for the numbers of farmers involved as well as the potential clog such requests can create in the minister’s office. Furthermore, how many farmers can leave their rural abodes, trace their way to the Minister’s office and have to tussle it out over a lengthy period just to get re-registered? Honestly, this is another opportunity to create a corruption racket right within the office of the Minister.

On Registration of coffee farmer organisations, the bill proposes:

The register of coffee farmer organisations and cooperatives shall contain the particulars of each coffee farmer organisation and cooperative including –

(a) the full name and address of the coffee organisation or cooperative:

(b) the number of members, their names and address;

(c) the type and variety of coffee in the coffee farm; and

(d) any other information which may be deemed necessary for the purpose of registration.

This here is duplication. In the section that deals with farmer registration, similar details are requested of them directly by UCDA and the same is repeated when it comes to the cooperatives. Isn’t it strange?

Wouldn’t it be a good idea if UCDA left the farmer registration to the various cooperatives and farmer organisations so that it can focus on getting the same information at this stage of the organisations? It could still issue farmer certificates but through their cooperatives.

For cases where farmers aren’t part of farmer organisations, it would be a better move to compel all coffee farmers to be part of one.


The offences defined are largely justified but the problem is with their mix-up. Some of them do not warrant the kind of punishments being proposed.

Anyone who:

  • neglects a coffee farm
  • poorly stores wet cherries or heaps coffee leading to mould formation
  • sets up a store or warehouse that does not meet the requirements for storing coffee

Commits an offence and is liable, on conviction to a fine not exceeding 48 currency points (UGX 960,000) or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both.

With out a proper definition of what neglect of a farm is, it is likely that the harsh sentence of two years could be easily used to malice some farmers. Secondly, these kinds of offences are best sorted out through proper education and guidance of the value chain actors. Since already controls are being tightened on monitoring of the coffee that reaches the market, by simply rejecting coffee of questionable quality the players involved will be forced to adjust for the better. Two years in a jail cell is unlikely to change an ignorant mindset for the better.

A person who:

  • dries coffee on the bare ground or around primary or secondary factory premises
  • handles or processes wet coffee with a moisture content above fourteen percent

Commits an offence and is liable, on conviction to a fine not exceeding 120 currency points (UGX 2,400,000) or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or both.

For these two offences, it seems like the attempt is to shoot a mosquito with a gun. Again, extension services with the aim of educating the actors are a much better alternative and where someone perpetrates these habits, the system in place should be able to eject such produce thereby creating losses for them. No need for a 5 year jail sentence.

The Authority shall confiscate and destroy-

  •  coffee found being spread to dry on the bare ground or around primary or secondary factory premises;
  • molded coffee; or
  • wet coffee with a moisture content exceeding fourteen percent being held or processed by anyone

I find this a better approach as opposed to jailing farmers for five years.

This bill could get much better if it was re-adjusted and these are some of the proposals I have for the parliamentary committee and the President:

  1. Farmer registration is key if we are to get onto the traceability band wagon and export high grade coffee to leading markets. However, there is no need to mandate direct registration of farmers to UCDA. Instead, this should be done though the various farmer organisations and cooperatives after making it a requirement that coffee farmers should have membership in an organisation.
  2. The proposal for UCDA to have a Coffee Specific extension team is uncalled for. This shall bloat our already stringent purse for Agriculture. There is absolutely no need to duplicate extension services. It should be possible for UCDA to utilise the MAAIF Single Spine extension services and even make them better by joining efforts. We saw this with the Uganda National Roads Authority when it was detached from the Ministry of Works only years later for the Government to propose an about turn.
  3. The proposal to have de-registered farmers apply directly to the Minister for re-registration is a redundant one due to its potential to cause uncalled for bureaucracies. Imagine a situation where 10,000 farers have been de-registered. Do we realistically expect the Minister’s office to handle the applications while keeping up with other duties? Remember this is just the Coffee sub-sector alone.
  4. There is a requirement for UCDA to register all value chain actors among which includes pulpers, coffee buyers, coffee graders, coffee store operators, hullers, processors, exporters among others. I propose that they be mandated to associate and form organisations through which the UCDA can then enforce their registration. If a Coffee Hullers Association is set up for example, the UCDA can simply use its structures to offer licences to the membership instead of the massive spend it is likely to face reaching out directly to each huller.
  5. The bill only guarantees farmers not to be charged for registration and licensing. However, other value chain actors are likely to be charged for licenses and no mention is made of this.
  6. There should also be consideration for a unified license for those entities that play multiple roles. My friend Karoli Ssemwogerere, Robert Kabushenga and some other farmers will need to be licensed for farming, pulping, hulling, store operation, processing as well as exporting. This can be such a cumbersome undertaking if they have to seek individual licences for each activity.
  7. The offences section should be revised to recommend alternative measures for some considerably minor offences like; neglecting a farm, drying on the ground etc. Two or five years in jail is an overkill.

That said, it is very disappointing to see the way this bill is being communicated by the various Government officials. Something is definitely wrong with the way the Government communication is done especially at the ministry level. It is high time people earned their salaries.

James Wire is a Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala

Follow him @wirejames on Twitter

Email – lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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