Buganda Kingdom Prime Minister Charles Peter Mayiga has pleaded with Members of Parliament to repeal the National Coffee Bill 20I8, arguing that it is intended to kick off business of small scale coffee farmers.
The Bill, which is aimed at maintaining quality in the coffee sector that is Uganda’s biggest foreign exchange earner, requires, among others that all coffee farmers register and acquire licenses.
But Mr Mayiga said such clause on farmer registration is unfair and intended to drive many small scale coffee producers out of the industry.
“If you threaten to penalize rural farmers because they don’t have a licence, this will create a situation where people will ask that cattle keepers should also be registered,” he said on Monday.
In drafting the Bill, the government was concerned by the continued compromising of quality of coffee by farmers through harvesting raw beans instead of ripe ones and poor drying, which led to Uganda’s coffee losing market internationally.
“There is a need to regulate the coffee value chain as is done in other jurisdictions, especially to include the on-farm activities, alongside the off-farm ones in regard to the generation of planting materials, harvesting and drying of coffee, to improve on the quality of coffee that goes to both the local and international market,” the bill states.
The regulator of the sector, according to the Bill, will be Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), which will register all coffee farmers for purposes of monitoring and regulation.
UCDA will then supervise the land on which the farmer intends to grow coffee to assess its suitability.
This registration will be entirely free and each registered farmer will be issued with an identification number, which may be withdrawn should he or she flout the procedures.
According to the Bill, the government will channel information or materials about coffee to only registered farmers.
The Bill has also proposed tougher sanctions for those who flout the new procedures.
For example, the Bill states that farmers found operating an unauthorized nursery bed, selling or distributing coffee seedlings, harvesting immature coffee beans or poorly drying and storing them face a fine of 48 currency points (about Shs900,000) or a two-year prison sentence.
Other offences, which will attract a maximum sentence of 120 currency points (about Shs2.4m) or five-year jail term, include drying coffee on bare ground and processing coffee without a license.
Parliament through the Agriculture committee will soon start the process of handling the Bill, such as seeking the public views about it.
The Government target on coffee production is to export 20 million bags by 2020.
Official figures from UDCA indicate that Uganda currently exports 401,930 bags to the international market annually.