Agriculture and food is a need which matters to every ugandan. During the vision group voters’ poll in June, agriculture was among the 10 issues voters want the candidates to address. Joshua Kato explores what the voters want and what can be done
The rains have come and Samuel Kizito Mukasa, a farmer in Nakaseke district, is preparing his farm for planting. But there are several issues pressing him.
“I cannot afford good seeds on a regular basis. When I buy them, sometimes they do not germinate because they are fake. And when my zero-grazed heifer falls sick, there is no extension worker nearby to help me out,” he says.
Kizito is just an example of the thousands of frustrated farmers out there. A New Vision opinion poll conducted in June ranks agriculture among the priorities the voters wish their elected leaders to address.
“They made so many promises to us during the campaigns, but very few have been fulfilled,” laments Kizito Mukasa.
The campaigns for the 2016 elections are heating up. Mukasa says he will attend the rallies to see if his needs are catered for. “If I get a chance to meet any of the candidates, I will ask him what he will do to improve the poor extension services and lack of markets for our produce,” Kizito Mukasa says.
According to the New Vision poll on 6,626 households across the country, 15% of the estimated 15.5 million voters voiced concerns about agriculture.
They cited high taxes and license fees, fake farm inputs, low prices, high loan interest rates, poor extension services, lack of markets for their produce, low value addition, lack of mechanisation and water during dry spells.
WHY CARE ABOUT AGRICULTURE?
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) national household survey 2013, 72% of Uganda’s working population is employed in agriculture and its related activities.
With a working population of about 16.4 million people, this means at least 12 million people are directly engaged in agriculture.
The 2015/16 national budget says agricultural contributes 23% to the economy. Production of staple foods like maize increased from about 1.9 million tonnes in 2011 to 2.4 million tonnes in 2013 and is projected to hit around 5 million tonnes in 2014/15.
Production of cash crops like coffee, tea, fruits and flowers has also risen sharply in the last few years. The sector grew by less than 1% in 2011 and is now growing at 3%, according to the agriculture ministry.
SOME OF THE 2011 PROMISES
In 2011, the NRM promised to improve many aspects of the agricultural sector as a poverty eradication strategy.
“Over the next five years, our commitment is to transform subsistence agriculture to market-oriented or commercial agriculture. The National Resistance Movement (NRM) will do this by increasing investments in several areas, as contained in the five year agriculture development plan,” read the NRM 2011 election manifesto.
The manifesto promised to promote value addition in agricultural products, by providing milk coolers, rice hullers, maize mills, etc, at subcounty level. They promised to utilise all other cotton by-products for oil, soap paper production, and other specialised uses.
The NRM also promised to construct 44 warehouses and 190 grain satellite collection centres in grain producing areas targeting at least 52,000 households, 50% of them women-headed households. Also promised was one large plant to produce fortified foods to improve household nutrition security.
The party also promised to increase coverage of the warehouse receipt system to provide storage to farmers who can use the receipts to acquire credit and to establish 17 grain milling and fortification plants under a public-private partnership arrangement and to support (and pilot at zone level). They also pledged cold-chain storage facilities for high value perishable products including milk, meat, vegetables, fruits and mushrooms.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE
The balance sheet of the promises since 2011 shows mixed developments in the agricultural sector, though a lot more still needs to be done. Immediately after the election in 2012, the direct allocation to the agriculture sector dropped from 4.98% to 4.51%.
The actual figures allocated however, went up and in total, sh558b was allocated to the agriculture sector, up from sh434b the previous year. However, in the 2013/14 budget, these allocations dropped by half to around 3% and stayed that way in 2015.
Value addition on agriculture products, which was the thrust of the manifesto, now accounts for over 35% of the processing industry in Uganda, against around 20% in 2011, according to a report from the Ministry of trade.
The processing includes juice production, cereals processing, fish, chicken, alcoholic drinks etc. However, most small-holder farmers still sell their produce in raw form.
According to Samuel Mugasa, NAADS executive director, in the last two years, 20 maize mills, against a promise of 17 mills in the 2011 manifesto have been constructed across the country.
“These have come complete with big standby generators and are doing well,” he says. The beneficiaries are in Busoga, Mubende, Luwero, Mityana, northern Uganda and Teso.
“We are setting up five regional maize silos with a capacity to store 5,000 metric tonnes each. We are also setting up small units with a capacity to store 200-300 metric tons at subcounty level,” Mugasi says.
For other value addition sectors, Mugasi cites the newly installed fruit factories for example, the over 50 milk coolers scattered across the Cattle Corridor. However, the much touted Banana fortification project in Bushenyi is stunted and this is blamed on abuse of funds.
“It is now 12 years since this project was started, but there is nothing to show for it,” Bushenyi MP Odo Tayebwa said.
Similarly, the mango juice factory in Arua, the Irish potato processing plant in Kisoro, the youth hatchery in Jinja and many others are either idle or underutilised. The managers attribute this to various factors. Emmanuel Ajedra, the manager of Arua fruit factory, says they don’t have money to buy spares.
“There are a few parts lacking here and that is why the factory is not operational.”
There is good news too. Private-led interventions have boosted value in the sector. In Ankole, new-comer Amos Dairies is competing with Sameer and Mega as dairy farmers smile all the way to the bank.
“Sameer was the sole bulk milk buyer in 2010; we now have Amos dairies as an option,” says cattle- fake inputs stressing farmers keeper Fred Rukundo. As a result, milk prices have remained stable. In Nakaseke, one of the largest poultry processing units, Yokuku, opened two years ago.
The plant processes 300,000 chicken for local and regional consumption.
Agriculturists say every sub-county in Uganda needs five tractors. With 1,330 sub-counties, this translates to around 6,000 tractors across the country. In the 2012/13 budget, it was announced that the tractor hire scheme would be enhanced and implemented.
However, with a medium size tractor going for sh70m, the sh500m provided for this in the 2013/14 budget was just a drop in the ocean. It acquired only seven tractors.
With about 1,000 tractors available for hire across the country against a demand of 6,000, the cost of hire services is prohibitive.
“To hire a tractor, I spend sh120,000 per acre here in Nakaseke,” says farmer Edward Ndugga. “That is too high and affects my profit margin.”
Ndugga says the Government should help farmers acquire tractors cheaply, through soft loans or restart the subcounty tractor hire scheme.
OPERATION WEALTH CREATION (OWC)
Having been frustrated by NAADS, the main agency for delivery of the agricultural services over the past 10 years, the Government deployed soldiers at the district level to improve distribution of farm knowledge and inputs. This has since improved the sector growth.
“For the last one year, agriculture sector has been growing at 3%. This has got everything to do with the changes made in NAADS and OWC,” says NAADS boss Dr. Samuel Mugasi.
Citing maize, he says in the year ending 2015, Uganda has produced 4.2million metric tonnes of maize, the highest volume ever. The previous record had been 2.7million metric tons in the 2009/10 season.
“What the OWC has mainly done is improve supervision and distribution of farm inputs,” Mugasi says.
CHALLENGES STILL ABOUND
These achievements notwithstanding, the New Vision opinion poll shows the sector is still grappling with big challenges like fake farm inputs and lack of extension services.
“They may have introduced OWC, but the extension system is still failing. You can hardly see the extension workers visiting our farms in Nakaseke,” says Kizito Mukasa, a farmer.
Mugasi agrees there are still challenges with the extension system. Extension workers help sensitize farmers in adopting best farm practices at given periods of the farming seasons. Mugasi says the problem is threatening the progress so far achieved in the sector.
“When NAADS was scrapped, districts were asked to recruit new extension workers, including redeploying previous NAADS staff. However, this has not yet happened.”
Districts are unable to recruit extension workers for lack of money. Mugasi says to address the issue, the Government must recruit at least 11,000 extension workers.
“Every sub-county must have about 10 extension workers taking care of crops and animals,” he says. But even at the peak, before NAADS was disbanded, there were no more than 4,000 extension workers for Uganda’s 7.3 million households. Mugasi says at the moment, there are less than 600.
FAKE FARM INPUTS
Another concern pointed out by voters in the opinion poll is fake farm inputs on the market.
According to the Uganda National Agro Dealers Association (UNADA), counterfeits and fake agro-chemicals account for 35% of the supply in the market, resulting into a loss of around $6m per year to the Ugandan farmers.
Anthony Okiror, a cereals farmer in Ngora district, is a good example of victims. Okiror bought six bags of DAP fertilizers for his maize shamba in Aloet, Soroti only to find all of them doctored. A bag of DAP costs up to sh130,000.
Okiror lost over sh700,000. Okiror had already bought seven bags of Longe10H maize to plant on the seven-acre piece of land where he had already spent sh700,000 to clear.
If all had gone well, Okiror would have harvested at least three tonnes of maize grain per acre, totaling 21,000kgs. With a kilogramme going for sh400, Okiror expected to earn sh8.4m. This was never to be.
“When the fertilizers failed, everything else failed. I ended up getting about six tonnes from the entire farm,” Okiror laments. .
Fighting fake inputs is the primary mandate of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. According to the commissioner for crop resources, Okasai Opolot, the Government has set up measures to fight the menace. He says recently, on top of regulations, a fully-fledged Police unit to handle fake inputs dealers was set up.
“We are increasing awareness among farmers about these fake products through regular sensitization,” he said.
PRICE FLUCTUATIONS AND MARKETING
At least 9.2% and 8.7% of the pollsters pointed out low consumer demand and price fluctuations respectively, as the other challenges they want addressed.
“Last year, I planted maize at a time when prices were around sh700 per kilogramme. But when I harvested four months later, the prices had dropped to sh400 per kilogramme,” says Abraham Musitwa, a frustrated farmer in Bukuya, Mubende.
Because price fluctuations across the country, farmers want to know what those vying for political positions will do to make them earn better returns on their labour. Farmers think that the government must put in place measures to ensure that prices do not drop so low.
“We need good storage facilities where we can keep our produce as we wait for better prices,” says Musitwa.
Some farmers are also not happy with the manner in which the trade system is handled. They say that there are unclear monopolies on some products that should be handled.
“It is right for us to sell maize to our neighbouring countries. However, the Government should stop the practice of selling unprocessed maize. Let us only sell processed maize flour and leave the maize bran to feed our animals here,” says Godfrey Walusimbi, proprietor of Butenga Chick star, in Kira, who deals in livestock feeds production.
Because of the uncontrolled export of maize, prices for livestock feeds rise sharply during the off season, eating on the profit margins of farmers.
In the 2014/15 National budget, the government had instituted taxes including VAT on most farm inputs, including farm tractors that had been exempted for many years.
However, after lobbying by the dealers, including Abbey Kazibwe, an agri-inputs importer with Nsanja agrichemicals and farmers organisations, the taxes were dropped. However, dealers pay normal trading licences while market vendors of foods pay a daily or monthly levy.
At the moment, however, Kazibwe says the biggest challenge facing dealers is the rise of the dollar. Indeed, the rising dollar rate was one of the issues raised by farmers during the poll.
LOANS REMAIN ELUSIVE
The poll showed that 5% of the respondents complained of difficulty in accessing agricultural loans. “There is no bank that gives agricultural loans. All that they offer are commercial loans,” laments Tony Wamburu, a farmer in Bulambuli district.
It is the mandate of the Government to enhance agriculture funding. Though the Government has in the subsequent budgets allocated funds for farmers’ loans and the number of regulated institutions handing out agricultural loans rose from 30 in 2011 to 32 in 2013, most of the loans were to large scale farmers and not the small holder farmers that form the backbone of the agricultural sector.
While the lending to farmers increased from sh566b in 2011 to sh699b in 2012; sh837b in 2013 and is estimated to have grossed the sh1 trillion mark by 2014, agricultural loans grew by just 20% compared to 70% for other loan portfolios as of 2013.
The low borrowing for agricultural projects is because the funds are managed by commercial banks that lend them out at high interest rates. According to farmers, this can be solved by establishing a bank specifically for agricultural financing.
“Farmers need big security to get loans from commercial bank. It is time we got a bank that caters for all farmers across the board,” says George William Kibodhe, a leading farmer in Kayunga district.
Although the NRM promised to start a farmers’ bank in 2011, this is yet to materialise.
WATER FOR PRODUCTION CHALLENGES
“We have not had rain for the last one year,” lamented Fred Rukundo, a cattle-keeper in Kiruhura district in the Cattle Corridor.
Throughout this period, Rukundo’s over 100 head of cattle depended on water from dams constructed across the Cattle Corridor. But then, the dams are also drying up, sometimes due to poor de-silting. The rains are getting more and more erratic, because of changing weather patterns. In 2012, there were unexpected rains between May and August, but relatively less rains in October to December.
“We have new dams, but the distance from one to the other is still long. We need more of them to reduce the distances,” says Henry Mijumbi, a cattle keeper in Kasozi, Nakasongola.
He says sometimes he moves his cows to as far as Bulyamuseenyi in Ngoma, about 20 miles away looking for water.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE
It is the mandate of the Ministry of Water and Environment to ensure that there is enough water for production.
The NRM promised to rehabilitate four medium scale irrigation schemes (Doho in Butaleja, Mubuku in Kasese, and Olweny in Lira/Dokolo and Agoro in Kitgum) with a total area of 6,535 hectares. Some of the others included Apac, Ongom in Lira, Odina in Soroti, Labori in Serere and Kiige in Kamuli district.
It also promised to establish four new medium size irrigation schemes each with 2,000 hectares, expand Kibimba irrigation scheme to support outgrowers, Pearl rice irrigation scheme in Igongero swamp in Bugiri/Iganga districts and construct 23 communal valley tanks across the country each with total reservoir capacity of 2.2million cubic metres to serve 450,000 heads of cattle.
According to minister of agriculture Tress Bucanayandi, the rehabilitation of Doho and Mubuku schemes was completed in 2013, while the rehabilitation of other schemes has started.
“These two big schemes are already changing the face of agriculture around them,” he said in an interview.
Most Ugandans agree that agriculture is the way forward for the country even in the next five years. “We can talk about industrialisation, the services industry etc but our regional advantage as a country lies in the agriculture sector,” says agriculture expert Paul Ssembeguya of Ssembeguya Estates.
According to him, the Government needs to improve financing to specific sectors, for example, the livestock and crop sectors, mechanisation, value addition and to bring easier to understand knowledge nearer to the people.
“People want hands-on, easyto- adopt skills and not workshop training. If we do this, agriculture will soar.”
On high taxes and licenses
Abbey Kazibwe, owner of Nsanja Agrichemicals, a leading importer of farm inputs: When a tax is instituted on a farm input like seeds or fertilisers, we also have no choice but to transfer the tax to the farmers. The dollar has gone up by over 40% in the last six months. It has negatively impacted on imports and this is why most dealers, including those in agriculture, are cutting down on imports. We need the Government to offer more direct subsidies to farmers.
On fake farm inputs
Slyvia Kyeyune, general manager Simlaw Seeds: This is a cancer that is eating through the industry and we must handle it with bare knuckles. It does not only affect the farmer but also the entire industry. Counterfeiters are making a lot of money at the expense of genuine producers and farmers. It is good that we now have a collective effort to fight this vice. We should do it in a no retreat no surrender strategy. We should fight for better implementation of the system regulating laws and better transparency. Let the penalties for counterfeiters be increased. Additionally, the Government must develop the capacity of seed producers so that they produce enough seeds, hence leaving no room for counterfeiters.
On water for production
George Asiimwe, Advocacy and Communication officer at Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers (ESSAF): The Government should and must ensure that small scale farmers are also benefi ciaries of not only the big irrigation projects currently in the country, but also smaller schemes near farming communities should be set up. They should not only target the big commercial farmers. Marketing and cooperatives Matsiko Kahunga, expert on developmental issues, including agriculture: The revival of cooperatives can help improve the marketing of agricultural produce. Producer cooperatives are referred to as farmer-controlled enterprises. One distinct feature of this type of business is that the key stages of the value chain are under the control and direction of the members. For example, Banyankore Kweteerana’s principal crop was coffee. The production at the farm level was managed by the primary society. The union added value through processing at its factories, while transportation was managed by Uganda Cooperative Transport Union. Financing, credit and banking services were assured by The Cooperative Bank, with Uganda Cooperative Insurance providing insurance services
Gerald Ssendaula, former Minister of Finance and a farmer: The financing of agriculture in the budget is inadequate. Basic funding to the sector should be about 10% of the budget. And this should be targeted at key production areas of the sector. I also advise that the government and the finance ministry take interest in identifying and support the bodies or organisations that are financing agriculture. The critical issue is to ensure that more financial resources go to farmers and make farming more profitable. But this is much better realisable if middlemen are eliminated and farmers have direct access to the markets.