[INTERVIEW] How tea project is transforming Kanungu
This week Africa Business Communities brings you this interview with James Garuga Musinguzi, one of the most successful farmers in Kanungu district in Uganada.
His success stems from his desire to transform Kanungu district through agriculture, especially tea growing.
To achieve this, he blended modern commercial farming practices with hardwork and passion.
Garuga says his love for tea growing started way back in the 1980s, but took root in 2008, when he mobilised farmers to open up big chunks of land for tea cultivation. He went a step further to start a tea factory in Rugyeyo sub-county, although this did not go down well with some people in his community.
“Many people asked why I set up a factory to compete with Kayonza Tea actory, where I am also shareholder,” says Garuga. Much as people thought his goal was to get rich through processing tea, Garuga says he wanted tea farmers to earn a better price for their produce.
“Today, because of the increased tea production, the farmers are assured of market and better prices,” he says.
Garuga says after establishing a tea processing factory in Rugyeyo, a kilo of tea leaves, which used to cost sh120, shot up to sh400. “This is what I wanted to achieve because our farmers toil day and night to make ends meet. However, many do not achieve their objective as they are exploited by middlemen who offer low prices for their produce,” he explains.
Garuga’s project was boosted by President Yoweri Museveni’s visit to Kanungu district in 2008 while on a Prosperity-for-All campaign. “The President pledged to support the district with 800,000 tea seedlings worth sh400m. The National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) secretariat was later asked to fulfill the pledge,” he says.
Operating under Kinkinzi Development Company, Garuga worked with both district officials and the NAADS secretariat
to implement the project. “I identified nursery bed operators to supply 400,000 tea seedlings at a cost of sh200m to farmers in Kirima, Kanungu town council, Rutenga, Rugyeyo and Kambuga sub-counties,” he says.
His counterparts from Kayonza Tea Factory also identified and trained nursery bed operators to supply seedlings to
farmers in Kanyantorogo, Kayonza and Mpungu sub-counties.
“The project was aimed at increasing tea production through the promotion and adoption of growing of high-yielding tea clones imported from Kenya,” he said. NAADS executive director Dr. Sam Mugasi, who visited the tea estate recently, urges other districts to adopt the Kanungu model of promoting a single crop with a ready market.
The project was successfully implemented. Owing to this success, the President, through the NAADS programme, again pledged to support the district with 36 million tea seedlings.
Spreading the word
Working closely with the nursery bed operators, the farmers have so far received six million seedlings and the remaining 24 million seedlings will be distributed this planting season.
Garuga has also opened up another tea processing factory in Butogota town council, a few kilometres from Kayonza Tea Factory, to provide more market to the farmers.
He says to date, the number of farmers engaged in tea production has increased to 10,000 from 3,000 in 2008 and
estimates that over 10,000 acres have been opened up for tea growing.
“We need more processing lines at the existing tea factories, otherwise, we shall not be able to consume all the produced tea in the district,” he explains.
He says farmers are being supported with new highyielding varieties , which take between one to two years to mature. They also yield three times more compared to the local varieties. One highyielding variety, for instance, produces about 7,800kg of made tea per hectare compared to the 3,000kg produced by local varieties. Garuga says 90% of their products are sold in Kenya.
Garuga, however, says tea growing has been affected by bad feeder roads. He also notes that during the dry season, the processing plants receive less unprocessed tea because most out-growers do not have the capacity to irrigate their fields. “The Government should address the issue of roads, especially Mpungu and Kinaba subcounties before farmers become frustrated,” Garuga says.
Farmers engaged in tea production have success stories to tell. Using the proceeds from tea, farmers in Rugyeyo sub-county have constructed a new home for their sub-county headquarters.
In the neighbourhood, they have also constructed a new healthcentre and the local Catholic church has also planted over 700 acres of tea.
According to Rev. Louis Turyamureeba, the tea enterprise is on the right path to transforming the district. “The church alone is employing over 200 people to manage the estate,” he says.
Turyamureeba also says they are to construct a modern primary school using proceeds from tea growing. Many farmers have also constructed permanent houses and can afford to take their children to good schools.
How to plant tea
The Kanungu district production coordinator, Peter Turiyo, says tea grows best in acidic loam soils that are well-drained. The recommended spacing is 4ft by 2ft.
It takes three years before the first harvest can be made, but the plant can yield for over 200 years. “When the tea has matured, farmers harvest the leaves every two weeks,” says Turiyo.
Eric Munubi, a farmer with over 170 acres, explains that tea is resistant to most diseases and pests. For instance, Munubi’s tea garden, which he established in 1964, is still thriving.
Management of the crop calls for continued pruning and this enables one to remove the old braches from the plant. It is recommended that pruning be done every three to five years to remove the stump.
Planting Tea bushes are planted between one to 1.5metres apart to follow the natural contours of the landscape, sometimes growing on specially prepared terraces to ease irrigation and to prevent erosion. Turiyo says seedlings should be raised from cuttings obtained from a mother bush and should carefully be tended in special nursery beds until they are 12 to 15 months old.
The site for a tea garden should be selected carefully, considering the soil type, depth and drainage. These determine the productivity of the garden during its entire life. A hectare of land takes 10,766 plants. Turiyo says tea responds well to nitrogen and at least 80 to 100kg of nitrogen is required per hectare per year.
Ten bags of NPK fertiliser are recommended for a hectare per year, split into two portions – applications should be during major rainy seasons. “Young tea should be given dressing of sulphate of ammonia to perform well,” he explains.
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