KALUNGU, Uganda, June 27 (Xinhua) — A large expanse of lush green rice paddies is a major highlight along the highway from Uganda’s capital Kampala to the southern part of the country.
The 3,000 acre rice farm, with a target of reaching 6,000 acres here in the central district of Kalungu, is owned by Zhong’s Industries Ltd, a private Chinese enterprise.
At the farm, workers from across the east African country are busy working.
At the section of ready to harvest rice, dozens of youths battle with swarms of birds that come to feed on the rice. As a daily task, they whistle, shout and flap to scare away the birds.
“I wake up at six in the morning to go and scare away the birds. We are a group of several youths who do this,” 24-year-old Brown Mfitundinda told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Several hundreds of meters away, combined harvesters are busy as tractors ferry the harvested rice to the rice processing facility also located on the farm.
At the facility, there are huge sun drying areas where the rice from the field is spread out on cemented floors by several dozens of youths mostly women.
After the drying the rice is ferried into the processing facility where it is milled before it is packed in 50kg bags with inscriptions “Zhong Yi” rice.
Zhong Shuangquan, managing director Zhong’s Industries Ltd, told Xinhua in a recent interview that there are over 1,200 local employees and five Chinese working on the farm.
The Chinese largely offer technical expertise especially in preparing the land for cultivation, technology, machinery and sales, according to Zhong.
He said planting, cultivation, harvesting and processing and sales goes on throughout the year. On average the farm makes daily sales of up to 40 tons of rice per day.
Zhong said the company plans to also use the out-grower model where millions of acres of land will be opened up for rice farming across the country.
In Uganda, rice growing is considered strategic as it has the potential to contribute to increasing rural incomes and improving food and nutrition security.
Some of the rice of the country has been exported to regional markets like neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.
Experts say the demand for rice is continuing to grow because of the increasing population.
China through a tripartite agreement with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and some member countries has over the years been sending technical experts to Africa through the South-South Cooperation Program.
Uganda is one of the countries that have benefited from this on-the-farm training of small scale farmers to boost production.
At the end of the second phase of the program in 2017, about 3,000 farmers were trained in cereals, horticulture, aquaculture and livestock in Uganda, according to the ministry of agriculture.
During the project, the Chinese technicians introduced the growth of Chinese hybrid rice. Official studies showed that the hybrid rice can yield up to 10 metric tons per hectare compared to the conventional rice which yields 4.5 metric tons per hectare.
Farmers in eastern Uganda, a region renown for rice growing, have already taken on growing the Chinese hybrid rice to boost their household income.
Uganda also established the 220-million-dollar Kehong China-Uganda Agricultural Industrial Park. The park, according to the Ugandan government, will be critical in transforming the country’s economy which is largely dependent on agriculture.
When fully operational, Kehong China-Uganda Agricultural Industrial Park is expected to produce about 600,000 tons of agro-products annually to meet the domestic and regional market demands. Among the agro-products include rice.
Zhong argued that massive investment in rice growing in Uganda will not only boost food security but also create employment.
He said for every youth employed at the Zhong’s Industries Ltd rice farm, there are several people who benefit.
Abel Mfitumukiza, a supervisor at the farm said after several years of looking for formal employment with no success, he left his home district Kisoro in southwestern Uganda and sought to work on the rice farm on recommendation of his brother who was already an employee at the farm.
Mfitumukiza said over the years he has managed to build a permanent house for his family back at home. He also uses part of his savings to pay school fees for his siblings who were on the verge of dropping out of school.
According to the managers of Kehong China-Uganda Agricultural Industrial Park, when the park is fully operational, it will create 25,000 jobs and avail opportunities of training for the local people.
Under the country’s wetland restoration drive, there is increasing concern from environmentalists over the cultivation of rice in wetlands. The activists argue that the farmers should instead resort to upland rice farming instead of what they called destroying wetlands.
Ministry of water and environment figures show that the country’s wetland coverage has reduced to 8 percent from 13 percent of the country’s land surface. The reduction is attributed to the population pressure where people are now resorting to wetland reclamation to farm.
Zhong’s Industries Ltd rice farm has faced this criticism but Zhong said they got clearance from the country’s National Environment Management Authority.
Richard Vvuube, senior environment officer Kalungu district where the farm is located told Xinhua that there is need to strike a balance between protecting the environment and also producing food and creating employment.
“We will advise them on how to protect and conserve the environment and at the same time we are getting the food,” Vvuube said.
Falling coffee prices, reduced output forecasts rattle Uganda farmers
There has been a slump in international coffee prices and shipping costs in the last quarter of 2022
Uganda’s coffee industry is walking into a challenging 2023 defined by falling prices and diminished output forecasts following the recent dry spell that hit major growing areas.
While the sector enjoyed a boom between 2020 and 2022 – with surging coffee prices, rising export volumes and considerable incomes for farmers – decline in international shipping costs and improved production forecasts in Brazil triggered a slump in coffee prices in the last quarter of 2022, according to industry players.
International shipping costs dropped from record highs of $10,000 per container charged on certain sea routes in January 2022 to less than $2,000. Shipping fees charged per 20-foot container ferried from Indonesia to North America, for example, are estimated at $800-$1,000 currently.
Consequently, local and international coffee prices have dropped since October 2022.
International robusta coffee prices fell from an average price of $2,400 per tonne to $1,856 per tonne towards the end of last year, according to industry data. Local robusta coffee prices declined from Ush7,200 ($1.9) per kilogramme to Ush5,800 ($1.6) per kilogramme during the second half of 2022 while Arabica coffee prices fell from Ush11,000 ($2.9) per kilogramme to Ush8,000 ($2) per kilogramme in the period.
In 2021, average coffee prices stood at more than Ush15,000 ($4) per kilogramme.
Robusta coffee production accounts for more than 60 percent of Uganda’s overall coffee output.
Besides gloomy coffee price forecasts for 2023, a severe dry spell in the past six months could pose a huge threat to coffee production levels. The weather affected major coffee-growing areas like the Central region and risks cutting this year’s output to around 5.5 million bags, industry players forecast.
“Brazil and Vietnam are headed for a bumper coffee harvest this year while India and Indonesia have discounted their local coffee prices in a way that has undercut Uganda’s growth momentum on the international market,” said Robert Byaruhanga, chief executive of local exporter Funzo Coffee Ltd.
Asian and Latin American coffee exporters are regaining dominance in European and North American markets after the lockdown period because of the lower coffee prices, reduced freight charges, shorter port clearance turnaround times and reasonable coffee quality grades, Byaruhanga explained.
Ugandan farmers are now holding onto their coffee produce in anticipation of better prices.
Overall coffee exports stood at 6.26 million bags valued at $862.28 million in 2021/22 compared to 6.08 million bags worth $559.16 million registered in 2020/21, data from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority shows.
An estimated 447,162. 60 kilogramme bags of coffee valued at $64.1 million were exported in November 2022 at an average price of $2.39 per kilogramme — 6 US cents lower than the average price of $2.45 per kilogramme posted in October 2022.
Original Source: Daily Monitor
Over 40 goats die of PPR disease in Madi-Okollo
At least 43 goats have died of Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) disease, also known as ‘goat plague’ and several others are undergoing treatment in Madi-Okollo district.
Madi-Okollo district veterinary officer, Dr Charles Onzima, says the viral disease, which is related to rinderpest in sheep as well as goats, has claimed the lives of goats in Olali parish in Ogoko sub-county.
He adds that PPR disease was confirmed in the district after 500 local and 94 Boer goats were supplied to families in Olali parish under a poverty eradication programme that he suspects infected the local goats.
43 of the boar goats died while 10 of the local goats of the communities also died of PPR disease.
Onzima says immediately after receiving information about the disease, the veterinary officers got the goats manifesting the signs of PPR that include sudden onset of depression, fever, discharge from the eyes and nose, sores in the mouth, breathing difficulty and death among others.
He says that they have already had three rounds of vaccination for the available goats in the affected area.
Artisanal gold miners defy government on mercury use
In October, President Museveni signed into the law the Mining and Minerals Act 2022. One of the key provisions in the law is the banning of mercury use in mining activities.
Artisanal and small scale gold miners in Uganda use mercury to separate gold from the ores, a method they say is cost effective, fast and easy to use. During this process, mercury is mixed with gold containing materials to form a mercury gold amalgam which is then heated to obtain the gold from the sediments.
The miners do the processing without wearing any personal protective gear. However, different Non- Government and Civil Society Organizations have over the years warned these miners against using mercury as it poses serious health threats to human life and dangerous to the environment.
But even with the government banning the use of mercury and several warning about the dangers it imposes, gold miners are not yet ready to stop using the substance especially since the government is not providing any viable alternative method they can use.
In Tiira mining site, Tiira town council, Busia district, gold miners expressed their concerns on this ban. Stephen Engidhoh, the Eastern Uganda chairman of Uganda Association of Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (UGAASM) said that mining has created jobs for over 30,000 people in Busia alone and with the government ban on use of mercury, many of them are likely to remain jobless.
He noted that in every sub county in Busia district, there are people during the exploration of minerals but the large gold discoveries here should not be an excuse to eliminate the small-scale miners from the mining sector because these minerals belong to all of them and it where they make a living from.
He added that if government wants this directive to be implemented, it should enforce it gradually and after finding an alternative method the miners can use.
“Government should first sensitize the miners about the dangers of using mercury before eliminating it. By government coming to abruptly ban the use of mercury, it is already creating indirect employment for smugglers to smuggle it into the country than they think they are eliminating,” Engidoh said.
Paul Angesu, the chairman on Tiira Landlords and Artisanal Miners Association said that even though they have been told that mercury is dangerous, for all the years they have used, they have never seen anyone experiencing the danger they say it causes.
“The government still needs to carry out thorough investigations on the possible dangers of using mercury so that it presents to the local miners with practical evidence that indeed mercury is dangerous and this will make us to easily stop using it,” Angesu said.
He added that sometime back, the Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health (UNACOH) came and took samples of mercury from the miners but they were not able to submit in the feedback for them to know if indeed they are indeed being affected by mercury.
An alternative gold extraction method which has been suggested to the artisanal gold miners is the use of borax method’ a technique of artisanal gold mining which use borax (a chemical compound) as a flux to purify gold. However, the miners say the government has not taken the initiative of introducing this method to them and training them on how to use it.
“They want us to use borax as an alternative to mercury but most of us don’t even know how borax looks like or even how it works. How do they expect us to start using something they have never taken the initiative to introduce to us?” Angesu asked.
Ramadhan Birenge, a gold miner in Namayingo district has tried using borax before after an NGO brought a sample of it to them. He however said that there is no any another way a miner can use to get gold clearly and quickly other than using mercury.
“The borax they are telling us to use is very expensive and not easily accessible to us, we don’t even know where it is sold and to get gold through using borax is a very long process yet mercury is a very easy, shorter process and relatively cheap.”
John Bosco Bukya, the chairman of Uganda Artisanal Miners Association told The Observer that they are law abiding citizens and since they have tested the consequences of operating in irregularities, they have no big problem with banning of mercury use in mining areas.
But however, before government bans it, it should provide the miners with an alternative processing reagent. He noted that government may not succeed with the ban and not because the miners don’t want to stop using mercury, but because the available alternatives must be effective, efficient and affordable.
“We don’t know anything about the borax method which they say can be an alternative. We don’t know where it is manufactured from, neither its cost or effectiveness. Government should first train the miners of an alternative method, test its effectiveness and efficiency before banning the method currently being used. If it is more efficient, definitely miners will stop using mercury,” Bukya said.
He also advised government to first sensitize these miners about the dangers of mercury before enforcing it and then phase it out gradually and not immediately because it is going to affect the livelihoods of Ugandans who are in this sector and yet it is the responsibility of government to make sure that all Ugandans thrive in their businesses.
Mercury is smuggled into Uganda through the porous borders with Kenya by cartels which makes its trade illegal. It is then discreetly sold to artisanal miners in Busia with a Kg costing between Shs 600,000 to Shs 1 million.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to mercury, even small amounts may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes as well as pose a threat to the development of the child in the womb for pregnant women.
Most of these ailments manifest over time. People who burn the gold usually take in large doses of mercury because they directly inhale the metals but those who may get it after eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with mercury take it in slowly and it accumulates over time.
Mercury also contaminates the soil making it infertile and unable to support agriculture, water and air. Mercury emitted to the air can also circulate around and contaminate water, fish and wildlife far from the mine from which it was released which affects the biodiversity.
Original Source: The Observer
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