AGRICULTURE. In 2015, tea growing was revamped in Alur kingdom after a rallying call from his majesty Phillip Olarker Rauni III, the King as an initiative to supplement coffee growing as the second main cash crop in the kingdom.
Coffee for decades had become the dominant cash crop in the kingdom after tea growing, an initiative of the colonialists in the 1960’s was abandoned in the late 1980’s stretching to early 90’s.
The king’s vision was to set up alternative sources of economic activities for his subjects and a subsequent transformation of the kingdom’s subjects.
His message to the subjects came at the backdrop of a similar call to his chiefs as early as 2013 to be examples in setting the tea farms across their chiefdoms saying many of the people were poor because they had not embraced farming as a tool to fight poverty.
“The kingdom will never tolerate laziness and each clan leaders must be exemplary with actions in changing his or her economic status by embracing agriculture as source of livelihoods”, Olarker said.
And realizing that the kingdom could not undertake such a massive venture alone, partnership with the government to tap on existing programs became the option.
As a result, under the Northern Uganda social action fund (NUSAF) III, over 50 groups in Zombo district have been selected as a pilot to promote tea growing and shaping economic transformation of the communities.
The NUSAF III desk Officer Ms. Pride Berocan says each group comprises twelve members being supported to the tune of shs18m to pilot the tea growing under Adida water shed project.
She says such membership has grown over time to nearly 300 groups across the district especially in Zeu Sub county where each group has so far planted an average of two acres with plots allocated as A, B and C.
Ms Santa Nyir, one of the beneficiaries of NUSAF III under Adida water shade project is optimistic that based on the interest and focus of the groups, benefits from their tea enterprise are around the corner.
Santa who is having over four hectares of tea plantation is counting months to start reaping from tea since the idea of building a local factory is under way with the overwhelming demand for tea in the region.
“Tea growing is the best way to go since it allows inter cropping with low feeding crops like soya beans and beans which has double profit to farmers to manage food insecurity in our community” She says.
She however says despite the obvious benefits of the venture, it needs total commitment right from planting and weeding. Many farmers often abandon the practice complaining that the enterprise is so tedious.
He says many farmers have shown interest in tea planting in the district but, the challenge the tea farmers are more likely to face is the capacity building, the marketability and the post-harvest handling of tea since it’s a new venture after it has been abandoned for many years in the district.
Mr. Gilbert Ayot Iwengut, a tea farmer in Zombo district says the revival of tea growing in the district could be an avenue and opportunity for local investors to set up small scale factories which will boost up trade.
He wants farmers to form tea farmers’ forum in order to enroll for e-business that will open more markets as well as updated farming information on modern farming. This he says will also eliminate the rampant cheating of farmers by middle men.
Mr Edwin Atukunda Bekunda, the director of Edwin Tea foundation says tea needs commitments with close monitoring and constant weddings and needs to be planted in lines for easy harvesting.
He says whereas Zimbo and parts of Nebbi district are suitable for tea growing, a lot still needs to be done to change people’s mindsets.
“The capacity building of farmers on tea growing is being done in the district of Zombo, but it’s so challenging to bring the youth since many of them want physical cash without work”, he complains.
He says the Zombo royal tea factory in Alur kingdom has created over 2000 jobs for both skilled and unskilled laborers and is optimistic that, the brand name is a clear indicator of poverty eradication in the kingdom which must be embraced by all.
The current sub counties in the kingdom embracing tea growing include Zeu, Athuma, Atyak, Aka, Kango and Warr in Zombo and Erussi and parts of Nebbi Sub County in Nebbi district which have the recommended type of soils suitable for tea growing.