Salim Saleh, farmers decry government approach on poverty eradication

Cassava growers' group in Ongako sub-county in Omoro district in a joint garden. Photo by David Okema.

By David Okema

Gulu – Farmers in Northern Uganda, benefiting from the various projects being implemented by government of in the agriculture sector have linked the unchanging poverty situation on government.

Mr. Salim Saleh, a 35 year old small scale farmer dealing in cassava in Tetugu parish Koro sub-county in Omoro district in the recent review monitoring exercise of nine different groups of farmer associations under the umbrella of Eastern and Southern Africa Farmers Forum-ESAFF at Gulu town, revealed that Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) is unable to change rural farmers’ livelihoods because inputs (seeds) supplied doesn’t suit the area [region].

According to him, it looks like “farmers are pushed to the wall to grow them”.

Secondly, he added farmers are also not given management skills therefore; they resort to embark on indigenous seeds variety with low commercial values.

Besides supplying premature cassava cutting to farmers, Saleh also said OWC distributed the farm input (cassava cutting, citrus) in a wrong season when farmers can no longer plant them.

Morris Odong Kisembo, a farmer from Ongako sub-county in Omoro district said last year he planted indigenous maize seed locally known as Apio and also planted improved variety Longe 5 distributed under OWC but stalk borer, a [maize disease] destroyed the improved varieties which he thought was created with technology that resist pest control.

Apart from NAADS/OWC, beneficiary of Northern Uganda Social Action Funds (NUSAF phase III), a World Bank funded scheme also claims little progress in poverty eradication in household level. They blamed this on low prices and lack of market for agricultural products.

One of the NUSAF III groups, Can-Deg-Lok Cassava Growers in Okii village, Ywaya parish in Nwoya district borrowed a loan of Uganda shilling 17,000,000 in late 2017 and invested it into inter-cropping of cassava and maize.

These group of farmers confirmed to authorities that marketing still remains a big challenge for their produce.

Mr. Willy Akena, the general secretary of the group say the group this year raised only Uganda shilling 1,400,000 from the sale of 3,500 kilograms of Longe 10 maize that was harvested from more than 22 acres of land.

Much as the group is very optimistic for a bigger harvest from the 22 acres plus of cassava, they are also afraid that getting ready markets will be a big challenge.

“We sold 3,500kgs of Longe 10 maize and we only got Uganda shilling 1,400,000 but we are still not sure about the market for our cassava,” Akena worriedly commented.

But from the entire 22 acres of farm field, the group obtained a total of 5080kgs of maize. They shared the rest of unsold maize grains for food among 15 members.

Experts described the poverty situation as “chronic”.

The former Gulu University Vice Chancellor, Professor Jack Nyeko Pen Mogi, who’s a veterinarian, has described the poverty in northern Uganda as ‘chronic’ due the bad choice of crops government give to farmers.

While giving a presentation at the launch of the 12th Uganda Economic Update by World Bank, at Gulu Country Dairy Farm in Unyama sub-county in Gulu district last week, Professor Pen Mogi stated that bad choices of crops and influence by government for people to grow certain crops like maize, Soya beans, cassava are the reasons for severe poverty in most households because such crops do not have good economic values compared to crops grown in other regions in Uganda.

He said several projects worth billions of shillings were implemented in the northern region but it’s surprising to witness the current status of household poverty among families especially at the grassroots level.

“We had NUSAF I, NUSAF II, NUREP, NAADS, OWC and now NUSAF III among others but household poverty remains a very big issue in Northern Uganda,” Prof. Pen Mogi noted.

According to Professor Pen Mogi, a farmer in Central Uganda is able to get Uganda shilling 16million from an acre of coffee in what he terms as “many times bigger than a farmer in Northern Uganda” that grow cotton and is likely to get Uganda shilling 1.5million per acre of land.

He added that a farmer in the central region growing banana can get Uganda shilling 10million per acre annually compared to northern region farmer growing rice that can only get Uganda shilling 4million in an acre per year.

He said such regional cropping disparity is the reason why people in the north continues to wallow in severe poverty, arguing that even when the government through her programmes like National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) and Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), Northern Uganda Rehabilitation Project (NUREP), NUSAF among others, nothing have changed because farmers are supplied with seeds that has low commercial values.

Ms Juliet Auma, a graduate in Agriculture from Gulu University and a proprietor of Gang Pur Farm Investment, in Gulu town, concurred that government has pushed farmers to grow particular crops like cereals which have no market values hence the limited change of lives.

“Farmers have been pushed by government to grow particular crops but in the end, farmers have no market to sell their products and hence limited change in live,” Ms Auma said.

Additionally, experts observe that farmers in northern Uganda do not know separating between food and cash crop, a farming ignorance making it hard for them to address food security and income.

Ms Auma suggests that farmers need to approach bulk buyers and exporters to identify crops which are performing well in the international market to avoid wastage of resources and energy in useless production.

The new World Bank Country manager in Uganda, Mr Tony Thomson during his assessment tour of World Bank funding activities in Northern Uganda last week, confirmed that household poverty still high among families.

Mr Thomson attributed the situation to poor quality of seeds, poor technology employed, limited knowledge among farmers and lack of marketing linkages between the farmers and buyers.

He also said the long chain of corruption on World Bank funds contributed to the wider gap between the rich and the poor.

World Bank Country manager, Tony Thomson with team from OPM and IGG touring one of the cassava plantations under NUSAF III in Nwoya district. Photo by David Okema.

Is there any plan to avert the situation?

Mr. Vincent Ssempijja, Minister for Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries assured farmers that government will consider disease/vectors control measures and water project for farmers in term of irrigation plants to save loss of crop in the farms due to devastating impact of global warming.

To address the issue of household poverty, Mr. Ssempijja said small scale farmers employing rudimentary garden tools like hand hoes should form groups so that access to farm input which will be supplied by government in the next financial year aid to uplift their farm output for maximum sale.

“Ministry will procure 160 tractors in the Financial Year 2019/2020 and we will introduce regional mechanization sector starting with six regions and the cost operating it will be funded by government,” Mr Ssempijja said.

He also called upon the local leaders to sensitize the farmers about the need for quality product, adding it will play a great role in determining the market.

However, Mr Thomson advises that Ugandan should adapt Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) system like irrigation plants which will help in the agricultural productivity and resilience of agricultural system and rural livelihoods to weather and climate shocks in order to achieve her vision of middle economy country.

Secondly, he says it will improve on the producers’ arrangement, value chain competitiveness, regulation and setting institutional environment.

Thomson also calls upon Inspectorate General of Government to uplift its work on monitoring and investigating World Bank fund channeled to change lives in Uganda but ends up being looted by few elites.

Suggestions and expectations

Ms. Auma suggests that government make fund accessible to farmers in term of loan through opening of regional Agriculture Bank such that farmers can have steadfast participation in their farm activities.

Mr. Kakel Praviin – the Managing Director of Bukona Agro Processing Factory located in Anaka sub-county in Nwoya district assured Nwoya and surrounding districts of market for maize and cassava.

He says the factory will process a total of 70 tons of cassava and a total 2000 tons in a month and that the factory shall buy each tone at rate of Uganda shilling 180,000 for fresh cassava and Uganda shilling 780,000 for dry one.

He encourages farmers in Nwoya and surrounding districts to grow cassava in large scale to supply the factory since his company will not get involved in growing of raw materials like maize and cassava.

Northern Uganda Social Action Funds (NUSAF III) is one of the many projects that government of Uganda is running to improve livelihoods; using loan acquired from World Bank.

In 2015, Uganda borrowed a total US$ 130 million to implement NUSAF I, II, and III which runs till 2020. It is being shared among 55 districts across Uganda with majority being northern districts to transform and uplift the Gross Domestic Products [GDP] after nearly three decades of LRA.

According to Developing the Agri-Food System for Inclusive Economic Growth report released in November this year by World Bank, natural agriculture in Uganda is growing at a lower rate of 2 percent compared to the population growth rate which stands between 3 to 5 percent in East African countries over the last five years.

Farmers inspect their maize garden in Ome parish in Amuru district.

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