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Uganda: Coffee Project Faces Collapse

by Isabirye MusokeThe Monitor
April 21st, 2004

Failure to pay suppliers of planting materials is threatening plans to increase coffee production in the country.

Under the programme, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) is to buy improved seedlings from nursery owners for distribution free of charge to farmers, but UCDA has failed to pay suppliers Shs 6 billion.

Some of the money that had been earmarked to pay suppliers this financial year has instead been used to open a private coffee shop in Europe. The Coffee shop is designed to promote consumption of Uganda's coffee abroad.

A UCDA official told The Monitor that as part of its plan to modernisation agriculture as well as eradicate poverty, government encouraged farmers and nursery operators to multiply the high-yielding coffee varieties and pledged to pay for them so that they could be given free of charge to other farmers.

Some of the clonal coffee seedlings were expected to replace the old Robusta coffee trees, which had become uneconomic.

Others were to replace old trees infested with the wilt disease. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of the coffee had been attacked by the wilt disease in the country.

The wilt disease attacks the leaves of the coffee trees and stops them from manufacturing food for the rest of the plant, which eventually dies.

Government has also encouraged non-traditional coffee producing areas to embrace coffee growing.

On the open market, one clonal coffee seedling may cost as much as Shs 600. Most farmers cannot afford.

The government decision to meet the cost of planting materials was welcomed by the farmers.

"However, government's failure to meet its commitment would make the farmers and nursery operators become bankrupt and unable to continue operating their business," the UCDA official said.

"This has affected the incomes and morale of coffee farmers countrywide and eroded the confidence farmers had in dealing with government," he said.

A Parliamentary committee on Finance, Planning and Economic Development, in a report to parliament urged government to meet its obligation and pay the farmers as failure could lead to poor performance of the sector.

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