Finance, Planning and Economic Development Minister, Mr Matia Kasaija, has said that government will not provide finds for coffee and tea seedlings in the next financial year.
The minister attributed this to the revenue shortfalls spurred by Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the economy.
“At the beginning of this year, the economy was recovering from the effects of Covid-19. This resulted into shortfalls in revenue collections and budget cuts for government to accommodate various needs and expenditures,” he said.
However, the minister said that government will use the Parish Development Model (PDM) funds to extend agricultural inputs including coffee seedlings to farmers.
“Operationalisation of PDM will ensure access to a number of wealth creation funds including finds for coffee and coffee seedlings amounting to Shs44.6b and Shs32b respectively,” Mr Kasaija told legislators during plenary sitting.
However, the MPs said this was betrayal to farmers who have been accustomed to supplying seedlings to government and those who have been receiving seedlings from government.
The Deputy Speaker, Mr Thomas Tayebwa, wondered how the strategy would work.
“We have people who have seedlings in nursery beds, and they know government has been buying these seedlings every year. You also have farmers whose gardens are ready and they are used to receiving seedlings. Now, you wake up all of a sudden and say people are going to buy seedlings under the PDM which you have not sent,” Mr Tayebwa wondered.
The Deputy Speaker added that Parliament has received petitions from coffee farmers about the inadequate funding to the sector in the current financial year.
Mr Kasaija had revealed that only 87 per cent of the approved budget for Uganda Coffee Development Authority was released.
“We are requesting that you release 100 per cent of money for coffee seedlings. It was not among the money frozen by government. We need to know if all the money for National Agriculture Advisory Services has been utilised,” he said.
Legislators told Mr Kasaija to allow nursery bed operators whose seedlings have matured to sell to farmers and get a refund from government.
“MPs that represent coffee growing communities get a lot of calls on this issue. Would it be right for government to make a commitment to citizens allowing them to have the coffee seedlings distributed in hope that when government gets money, they will be paid?” asked Mr Godfrey Katusabe, the Bukonjo West County MP.
The Chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Ms Janet Moe Okori, said coffee trees in the Rwenzori and Elgon regions need to be replaced but expressed fears that there will be no replacements if government suspends funding to the sector.
“It is difficult to understand how a farmer in those regions will be able to do the stamping and replacing of the old coffee trees,” she said.
Mr Kasaija agreed to this arrangement but reiterated that his ministry would be able to pay farmers in a period of two to three years saying this would apply to both coffee and tea seedling farmers.
“As a man in charge of this economy, I know people have grown seedlings both for coffee and tea; the season is running out, people are crying, we shall give permission to nursery operators to sell what they have in gardens and we shall pay them in two to three years,” Mr Kasaija said.
More than 3,000 coffee nursery bed operators are stuck with coffee seedlings worth Shs58b meant to be supplied to farmers in seven regions of the country.
These were certified by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) to supply farmers with the seedlings for five years in both seasons running from March – May and August – November every year.
The operators were tasked to supply at least 10 million coffee seedlings at Shs350 each to farmers.
This translates into at least 70 million coffee seedlings per season to farmers in all the seven regions including mid-western (Bunyoro), Rwenzori, northern, western, eastern, southern and central.