Coffee Smuggling: A modern-day problem

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In relation to this story I was asked by a colleague “when somebody says smugglers, what do you think of?” My natural reaction – like many of yours I presume – was to associate smugglers with treasure, booze and drugs.

But, in Tanzania, coffee farmers, industry officials and government ministers are up in arms about a coffee smuggling operation that is seeing fresh beans transported into Uganda, denying the Tanzanian authorities – and many others to boot – lucrative export revenues.

Various local news agencies and media outlets have been reporting the story recently, and things aren’t looking good: Tensions are flaring and individuals and companies are getting drawn into a war of words.

“The government, in collaboration with the Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB) and other stakeholders,” began Abdulrahman Kinana, CCM Secretary General, “is working out modalities to ensure that coffee exports fetch the required prices in an effort to motivate the farmers.”

The reasoning behind Mr Kinana’s comments appear to be that many farmers and workers believe that Tanzanian coffee receives a raw deal on the export market – for a variety of reasons – and therefore look to sell their crop elsewhere. Neighbouring Uganda is a popular destination at the current moment in time.

However because the coffee is smuggled abroad, the Tanzanian government and coffee industries don’t receive any profit and therefore can’t invest back into the sector. Basically, it’s all a bit of a mess with everybody pointing the finger at everybody else.

Challenging those perceived to be responsible, Mr Kinana let loose with both barrels: “Stop making excuses. You must act fast to stop [this] evil because it has a negative effect on the nation’s economy!”

Coffee exports brought Tanzania about $180m on an annual basis and accounts for roughly 20% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. A dip in this financial pot of gold could seriously hurt, it is alleged, the country’s economic outlook.

But, a rather bleak picture is painted by those in contact with coffee associations and unions in certain areas on the verge of collapse due to a combination of mismanagement, fraud and smuggling. 

Photo: Joachim S. Müller (Creative Commons)

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