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Food shortage looms as lockdown hits farmers

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A farmer uprooting weeds from his maize field in Kasese district. The COVID-19 lockdown has prevented farmers from accessing farm inputs. (File photo)

AGRICULTURE

Food production is often a combination of different factors, ranging from access to the right seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and good agronomical practices, which work together to ensure good yields. 

However, restrictions on the movement of people caused by the ban on public and private transport in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic constrained the procurement of farm inputs, including planting materials, fertilisers, pesticides, feed and veterinary services.

Industry players say limited access to inputs has affected a number of farmers around the country, while low supplies of pesticides is hampering efforts to contain pest outbreaks and will likely affect agricultural production, causing food shortage later in the year.

The Uganda National Farmers’ Federation (UNFFE) president, Dick Nuwamanya, said the sector will see food production drop to between 15% and 40% due to the disruption caused by the spiral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crops he expects to be most affected are pulses, especially beans due to the shortage of bean-seed at the start of the first planting season.

Nuwamanya said while Uganda has 10 ecological zones whose seasons fall at different times, most of them had not yet received seeds by the time of the lockdown and thus farmers did not plant.

He added that planting was not as optimal as usual, even in the districts supported by the Agriculture Cluster Development Project (ACDP). The project was put in place to raise on-farm productivity, production and marketable volumes of selected agricultural commodities, including maize, beans, rice, cassava and coffee in Amuru, Kalungu, Iganga, Ntungamo, Nebbi, Masaka, Mpigi, Rakai, Bugiri, Namutumba, Nwoya, Gulu, Kabaale, Bushenyi and Isingiro districts.

The Food Rights Alliance executive director, Agnes Kirabo, also said most smallholder farmers rely on public transport and that its absence meant that they could not access farm inputs and markets to sell their produce.

LDU personnel carry food for distribution in Lubiri Roing Road zone in Katwe 1, Kampala. (Photo by Eddie Ssejjoba)

She added that because of the lockdown, a few farmers were able to plant as expected, which will result in low production, thus limited food supply to markets, which will in turn increase food prices yet many households are struggling financially.

“We have made farmers to rely on the Government or civil society organisations to get inputs; that should change. We need to find other ways to support farmers,” Kirabo said, adding that the Government should supply farmers with inputs early so that they prepare for the next season.

SCHOOLS EFFECT 

Nuwamanya said while there seems to be plenty of food in the country currently, huge shortages are expected going forward, especially when schools, which are the major consumers of farm output, are opened.

“We seem to have plenty of food considering the circumstances, but this is not going to continue in the next few months, especially if God grants us the opportunity to unlock the country. The current food surplus is because of reduced consumption because of the lockdown,” he said.

Nuwamanya added that about sh500b goes into workshops in Uganda annually, which boosts food consumption.

Edward Katende, the Uganda Agribusiness Alliance chief executive officer, who is also a farmer, said while there is still plenty of food in the country, the Government needs to invest in crop protection to ensure the monitoring of pests and diseases early enough to ensure timely intervention.

For instance, there was an outbreak of destructive caterpillars in Kayunga and Luwero districts, threatening food security and farmers’ incomes.

Katende also called for enhanced investment in postharvest handling practices to curb post-harvest losses. It is estimated that over 30% of agricultural produce in Uganda is lost due to poor post-harvest handling.

The Agrarian Services executive director, Robert Serwanga, said the poultry business has been hit by shortage of feeds and veterinary services in some parts of the country, which is expected to affect production.

“The birds need routine vaccination, but farmers could not easily access vaccines,” he said.

CHEMICALS TO EXPIRE 

Agro-chemical dealers at Container Village in Kampala said while the Government allowed them to operate as part of the other essential sectors, they have not benefited and fear that most of their pesticides and other agro-chemicals which they had stocked would expire.

This is because the majority of their customers are from upcountry and could not move to Kampala because of the ban on public transport.

Sadala Oforoga, an agro-inputs dealer in Kampala, says the COVID-19 lockdown made it hard for farmers to reach him. (Photo by Shamim Saad)

“We are happy to be among the people who were allowed to work during the lockdown although we have not benefited much. Most of our customers come from rural areas in districts like Masaka and Mubende. They could not easily travel here to buy agro-chemicals due to lack of transport,” Swaibu Mulondo, a dealer in agro-chemical products, said.

Sarah Kalande, another agrochemical products dealer, said: “It is our prayer that public transport resumes as scheduled so that farmers can easily make it to town and purchase agro-chemicals. Some farmers had resorted to sending bodabodas to buy the chemicals, which made it expensive for them.”

While the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) spokesperson Khadija Nakakande said they had distributed about 498,000kg of maize seed to farmers in different districts, it was not enough to cover all the farmers in the country.

Nakakande said they plan to distribute between two million and three million kilogrammes of additional maize seed targeting districts in eastern, northern and parts of central regions whose rainy season goes up to July, while the other regions will receive planting materials at the beginning of the second season in August.

She said there were plans to distribute bean seeds, although they are scarce. While there are reports of farmers who have lost animals and birds due to the lockdown, Nakakande said their plan is to ensure that farmers have access to the relevant agricultural inputs during and after COVID-19 for increased production and productivity as well as improved household incomes.

Original Post: New Vision

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Access to land, capital hampering youth’s involvement in agri-business

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Stakeholder engagement with governments to support the youths should be a component of every programme

Young people in sub-Saharan Africa have keen interest in agriculture especially with the use of technology but are hampered with numerous challenges including limited access to land, skills set, sustainable financing and access to markets, a new report has revealed.

A new study carried out by Heifer International in 21 African countries titled ‘The Future of Africa’s Agriculture – An Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology,’ reveals that 10 out of 11 countries, with the exception of Tanzania agreed that the most important support required is funding.

However, more training and mentorship were seen as more important than funding in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The survey also reveals that whereas more youths in Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe stressed the need for support in the area of access to markets, their counterparts in Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana prioritized the need for support in agri-technologies. Access to land was the major concern for the youth in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The organisations working in the sector suggested that the best way to engage youths in agriculture is through technological innovation (39%), government support for young farmers (32%) and inclusion of youths in agriculture policy formulation (21%).

“Most youths in Africa also do not have access to land for agriculture.  59% of youths surveyed do not have access or own land. Land ownership amongst young people is lowest in Ghana, Zambia, Senegal and Rwanda,” the survey notes. “Youths in Malawi seem to have access to land, with only 14% having no access, the lowest among countries surveyed.”

Technology adoption

Overall, technology adoption in Africa too remains low, with Ghana, Senegal and Zambia having the lowest agri-tech adoption rate.  Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria have the highest technological adoption rates, according to the survey that featured 30,000 youths, stakeholders in innovations and small holder farmers.

William Matovu, a director at Heifer International-Uganda said the paradox of Africa’s economic development is that the continent’s urban and rural populations who produce most of the food is mostly comprised of smallholder farmers practicing subsistence farming while living in extreme poverty.

“This scenario scares away the continent’s youth from careers in agriculture, yet ordinarily Africa’s youth should be replacing the aging farming population but this generational shift is not happening fast and well enough to secure Africa’s food security goals,” he said.

He reckoned that Africa’s youths disapproving attitude towards agriculture is mainly a result of lack of funding which is the biggest barrier towards their interest in the sector.

Africa’s agricultural sector accounts for nearly 30% of the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa and employs 54% of the work force, but it is still underdeveloped.

Mondo Kyateeka, the Commissioner for Youth and Child Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development said unfortunately, young people are selling off the only available land to migrate to cities or go abroad for low-skills jobs

He said there are also feelings that older people are not willing to relinquish the land they can no longer use, to the younger persons to use it.

He, however, said the government is seeking ways of curbing the sale of agricultural land, saying the position is that agricultural land should remain for that purpose.

Key recommendations

As a result, the survey recommends a review of existing programmes that targets smallholder farmers and that youths must be conducted to determine if the current strategies support the African farmer with the use of technology.

“Innovation must be viewed within the context of the current realities,’ the survey notes. Beyond a smart App, the survey says providing linkages to local and regional markets will go a long way in improving the financial bottom-line of every farmer. The survey says digital literacy must also be a key consideration.

The survey says while smallholder farmers in rural areas do not have access to smart phones or Internet access, a basic phone is a good starting point in introducing the use of technology, through weekly SMS on prevailing market prices and best input bargains.

Furthermore, youths with a keen interest in agri-tech must work collaboratively with smallholder farmers to get a better understanding of their challenges and how to provide sustainable and affordable solutions.

“There is also need to capture data to provide evidence-based results on the immediate benefit and long-term impact of the use of technology by smallholder farmers,” the survey notes, adding that stakeholder engagement with the governments to provide access to land, tax waivers and fiscal policies that deliberately support youths in the sector should be a component of every programme.

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Butaleja farmers oppose govt ban on growing rice

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Farmers in rice gardens in Hisega Village, Butaleja Town Council, Butaleja District last week.

Farmers in Butaleja District have opposed the government’s decision of banning the growing of rice and other crops in wetlands across the country, saying they should have been consulted.
The farmers say the decision will affect their livelihoods and push them further into poverty.
Last week, the government banned the growing of rice and other crops in wetlands.

In a resolution passed by Cabinetand communicated by the Minister of State for Water and Environment, Ms Beatrice Anywar, the government said the move will restore the environment that has been degraded by farming activities.
Ms Anywar said Uganda’s wetland coverage has dropped from 17.5 per cent in the early 1990s to 8.5 per cent, while forest coverage has dropped from 24 per cent to 12.4 per cent.

Mr David Mulabi, a rice farmer and former contestant for Bunyole East MP,  last week said the decision is inhuman and one of the examples of the many discriminative and recklessly managed policy processes.
“The government has been giving out forests to foreigners to build industries. They have not said anything about urban encroachment on wetlands for home construction. Why target the poor farmers who have nowhere to go and have been farming in  these wetlands for over 50 years,”Mr Mulabi wondered.

He such a policy with a huge potential for social impact should have gone through long studies and consultations before its implemented.
Mr Mulabi said this could be another  government ploy to marginalise the rice farmers in the district, which is about 40 per cent covered by water bodies and wetlands.
“They j simply need to drop the whole thing and start afresh with proper policy consultation with a view of not evicting farmers but to get sustainable and practical solutions,” he said.

Mr Mulabi also accused government for giving a tax waiver to traders to import rice, something he said has led to price drop and has affected the farmers’ income.
“Instead of giving such money to our farmers to improve output, they supported foreign farmers at the expense of Ugandan farmers,” he said.
Ms Sarah Nagawa, another rice farmer, said the decision should be shelved, saying they earn their livelihoods from wetlands.

“These wetlands have paid for my children’s school fees including myself.They should think of better ways instead of taking decisions without consulting us,” he said.
Mr Abdu Walubya, a resident, said the district has  been depending on wetlands for farming.
“Almost 70 per cent of the homesteads of the population generate their income through use of these wetlands.Others live and sleep in wetlands. How will the government handle those who sleep and stay in wetlands, ”Mr Walubya said.
The district chairperson, Mr Micheal Higenyi Bory, said if the government takes over  wetlands without a clear plan, it will  lead to bloodshed.

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Raw deal for Sebei as Irish potato prices drop

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Farmers in Sebei Sub-region are counting losses following a drastic drop in the prices of Irish potatoes

Farmers in Sebei Sub-region are counting losses following a drastic drop in the prices of Irish potatoes.
A bag of Irish at a farm gate costs about Shs30,000 from Shs70,000 and a kilogramme goes for Shs300 from Shs700.
Farmers attribute the drop in prices to the Covid-19 disruptions, poor road network and the surplus harvest of Irish in neighbouring Kenya, which has now ended in the Uganda market.

In an interview with Daily Monitor at the weekend, the farmers said they were expecting to make fortunes out of the bumper harvest.
They have asked the government to start up a processing plant so that they can add value to the irish.
Mr Isaac Sande, a farmer in Chemonge Village, Kapchesombe, East Division in Kapchorwa District, said they were giving away their produce to middlemen.

“We are just dumping our produce because we don’t have any other alternative. We are making losses and yet we had anticipated better prices,” he said.
Mr Sande said this was the worst price they had experienced in a decade.
“I had invested about Shs3 million as part of a loan from a savings group, expecting to get Shs7 million, but this is now impossible,” he said.
Mr Satya Malewa, the vice chairperson of Kwoti Kapenguria Farmers Group, attributed the low prices to an influx of Irish from Kenya.

“Buyers would easily move here for potatoes, but it is now hard because of hiked transport costs,” he said, adding: “The government should provide us with soft loans.”
Mr Joshua Cherotich,a farmer in Kamakunga, Kapchesombe Sub-county, Kapchorwa District, said he is stuck with about 2 tonnes of irish.
“I invested a lot of money, but the middlemen are giving us peanuts. But by all means, I will give it away because it will rot,” he said.
Mr Joseph Mangusho, a resident of Benet Sub-County in Kween District, said the government should improve the transport network.
“We also don’t have warehouses from where we can store our Irish,” he said.

Production capacity
Ms Susan Chemutai, the secretary for production of Kapchorwa District, said the district produces between 400 and 500 tonnes of Irish potatoes per season.
Ms Everlyne Kubarika, the chairperson of Kapchorwa District, said Sebei Sub-region produces a lot of Irish, which if processed can lift the farmers out of poverty.
Mr William Chemonges, the MP for Kween County,  who also seats in the Parliamentary Committee of Science, Technology and Innovation, said they made a presentation to the line minister (on value addition for Irish) who will brief them next month.

“Our farmers face a major challenge of prices. We need a processing plant and machines that can transform the raw Irish into other products in powder form. The Irish should also be preserved for two to three years,’’ he said.

Original Source: Daily monitor.co.ug

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