I have had the pleasure to have travelled to many remote areas on this planet; mountains, lakes, and valleys alike. Yet, I was unprepared for the sights I face here in Uganda on a daily basis. These are sights indescribable in words and unjustified by pictures.
The only words that do come to mind are 50 shades of green. AT LEAST.
Uganda is the third leading producer and exporter of tea in Africa (45,000MT) after Kenya (295,000MT) and Malawi (55,000MT) (MAAIF, 2010), but tea produced in Uganda is of a medium quality, primarily used in blends with more premium quality teas, such as those from Kenya. As in many other tea producing countries, Uganda’s tea value chain is controlled downstream by a handful of powerful players.
The majority of the tea gets sold to exporters at the auction in Mombasa, where it generally fetches a price too low to financially sustain its production on farm level. In addition, Kenya often buys the Ugandan tea, blends it with its own, rebrands it and sells it back to Uganda for a higher price. Funny world we live in.
Some parts of Uganda are already affected by climate change, i.e. irregular rain patterns and rising temperatures. A report released by climate scientists at the Colombia-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) shows that if average temperatures rise by an expected 2.3 degrees Celsius by 2050, some of Uganda’s most lucrative tea producing areas could be completely wiped off the map!
For Western Uganda, in particular the border region with Rwanda and Congo, it might be a different story all together. With altitudes up to at least 2,400m and rich volcanic soils, the climate is ideal for growing tea. The higher the altitude, generally the richer the flavour of the tea. High mountain teas at extreme altitudes maintain a unique complexity and depth not found in tea grown on lower terrains.
It is at such heights, that FRANK is focusing his search for the best tea leaves. Not an easy choice, requiring us to travel long ways to remote communities tugged away on hillsides. As we are amidst rainy season, we often have to navigate through deep mud and torrential rains to meet the tea farmers and their homes.
But you know what, as Paulo says, the danger and adrenaline of an adventure is certainly worth a thousand days of ease and comfort!
As I stand at an altitude of 2,200m, touching the tea bushes still covered in morning mist, I know we are on to something here. The future is green and bright for tea production in Western Uganda. I can feel it in the mountain air, and deep inside my heart.
Keep it FRANK,
Valerie & David