Lack of data is the key setback in Cocoa production and marketing in Uganda.
Emmanuel Lubega, the Uganda-South Sudan national coordinator at the East African Business Council-EABC, argues that even when hundreds of farmers are involved in cocoa-growing, the country lacks accurate production data to attract international buyers and private investors.
He says the fortunes in cocoa-growing have fluctuated because the government has concentrated more on promoting coffee production and marketing.
Current statistics show that Uganda produces 31,000 metric tons of cocoa annually with at least 20,000 farmers involved in the venture, figures Lubega disputes as outdated.
Lubega says that the absence of proper market information regarding prices across the region and at the international level has made farmers prey to the monopoly of middlemen, hence discouraging many from the business.
According to Lubega Uganda can boost cocoa production by introducing the warehouse receipt system where farmers can take their produce to the government stores and acquire advance payment to keep them financially alive.
Kasese District Agriculture Officer, Julius Rukara agrees that the district does not have updated statistics on the number of cocoa farmers.
He, however, says that the district in partnership with NAADS have supplied cocoa seedlings to a number of farmers across the mountainous parts of the district.
Rukara, however, says there is a need to help farmers form cooperatives so that they can easily penetrate the cross-border market but also control local product prices.
Robert Kabagambe, a cocoa farmer from Hoima says there is a need to create cocoa cluster districts to attract bigger buyers and investors. He thinks that once cocoa producing districts are popularized and the crop output increased many buyers would take interest in Uganda’s market.
Benjamin Masereka, a farmer from Kisinga Sub County says that they have over time been selling their produce privately to companies in Kasese town. This means that the buyer dictates the price, which can only change if the farmers are well identified and organized into groups, according to the farmer.
The Operation Wealth Coordinator-OWC Kasese District Lt. Col. Barnabas Bwambale Muwongo, says OWC is supporting the cocoa development programme by availing planting materials to farmers as well as support to post-harvest handling facilities.
However, he agrees that there is a need to improve the database to streamline the support system.
In Kasese today, a kilo of fresh cocoa is sold between Shillings 2500 and Shillings 3000 while the dry beans go for as high as Shillings 8000. Cocoa is grown mostly in Bundibugyo, Mukono, Jinja, Kamuli, Buikwe, Masindi, Mayuge, Iganga and Kayunga districts. According to information from NAADS, Cocoa is Uganda’s fourth-biggest commodity export after coffee, tea and fish.