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Farmers worry as prices of seeds rise

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Mr Moses Kizige, the then Bugabula North Member of Parliament, distributes maize seeds to locals in Kamuli District in 2021. Photo / Sam Caleb Opio
What you need to know:
  • The second season is expected to start this month although some areas such as Kayunga began theirs in mid-August and is expected to end in  November.
  • This, coupled with a food insecurity threat, means that most of what was grown was either eaten or sold to cater for home needs.

Beans and maize are one of the most common foods consumed in the country because of their low prices. However, the rising cost of commodities could change this as farmers struggle to get the seeds .

During the first planting season (March to  July), many farmers had hoped for a bumper harvest, but an unrelenting dry spell that lasted three months in many parts of the country withered the crops resulting in poor harvests.

Because of this, many farmers across the country are currently struggling to get seeds to plant for the second season after registering poor yields in the previous season.

The second season is expected to start this month although some areas such as Kayunga began theirs in mid-August and is expected to end in  November.

This, coupled with a food insecurity threat, means that most of what was grown was either eaten or sold to cater for home needs.

 Farmers are now visiting shops to purchase seeds for planting, competing with other buyers who need the seeds for consumption such as school proprietors.

This has pushed the prices of various seeds such as beans and maize through the roof.

For example, the price of a kilogramme of dry beans ranges between Shs4,500 and Shs5,000 in most shops across Uganda. This means that a smallholder farmer has to part with Shs100,000 to buy at least 20 kilogrammes of beans, enough to plant an acre of land.

For maize grain, a kilogramme goes for Shs2,500 up from Shs1,100 eight months ago.

The situation has been exacerbated by the recent government decision to suspend the distribution of free seeds to farmers this financial year as has been the case in the past.

 The government argued that such funding would be channelled through the recently rolled out Parish Development Model (PDM) programme.

In Koboko Municipality, Mr Isaac Taban, a farmer, says the price of food is likely to remain high because of expected low production as many farmers may fail to plant crops due to failure to secure seeds which have also become very expensive.

  “I am a worried farmer because we used to receive seeds from the sub-counties. Money has been channelled to PDM, whose impact is not felt,” he says.

Another farmer, Mr Samuel Baiti of Kuniro Village in Abuku Sub-county, Koboko District, says next year might be the worst in terms of food security because few farmers have planted crops.

“Government should make sure that seeds are sold at affordable rates and supplied to farmers each planting season,” he says.

The Koboko North Constituency Member of Parliament, Dr Musa Noah, says Parliament used to set aside some funds for procuring seeds to distribute to farmers in constituencies, but unfortunately, all these funds have been channelled to PDM and its implementation is still shrouded in controversy.

“We are making private arrangements to secure seeds for the farmers but in case we fail, they will explore other alternatives to get seeds to plant,” Mr Noah says.

 Mr Francis Akorikin, the chairperson Kapelebyong District, says under PDM, farmers are expected to buy planting materials of their choice although the programme has not yet been fully rolled out.

“Since the start of this year, we only received 1,000 bags of cassava stems and there is no hope that they will receive more,” he says.

 In Arua District, Mr Alex Acidri, the coordinator of the Arua District Farmers’ Association, says some farmers have resorted to recycling the seeds they planted last season which may not give them good yields.

“There are quality seeds on the market, but the majority of the farmers who are deep in rural areas cannot afford them because they are expensive,” he says.

Ms Terezina Trimaru, a farmer and a resident of Okavu Village, in Arua District, says she used to depend on seeds distributed by Operation Wealth Creation and MPs but such donations are not forthcoming.

“This is a planting season and those [seeds] in shops are very expensive,” she says.

Mr Sulaiman Mutumba, a trader in Masaka City dealing in cereals, says the rise in the prices of beans has been caused by the low supply of beans lately on the markets, especially yellow beans.

“Though the prices of beans went up early this year, they were never this high. Then a kilogramme rose from Shs2,000 to Shs4,000,” he says, adding that there is a high demand for yellow beans from both Sudanese and Kenyan traders.

Traders from the two neighbouring countries usually comb villages and buy the produce straight from the farmers’ gardens and double the amount the local buyers are willing to part with. This leaves the farmers with no choice but to sell to the highest bidder.

“We still get clients to buy the beans but the ones who would buy five kilos, now take one or two,” Ms Shamim Kakeeto, a shopkeeper in Mpigi Town, says.

Mr Jibil Kizito, another trader from Nyendo Central Market, Masaka City, says to meet the demand, cereal dealers in the area have started importing the beans from Tanzania which has forced the prices to go up from between Shs3,500 and Shs4,000 retail price to between Shs4,500 and Shs5,000.

“And prices are expected to rise further in the coming weeks since schools are set to reopen. Usually, there is a high demand from educational institutions, so the middlemen use it as an opportunity to hike the prices,” he says.

Most schools prefer buying Nambale beans, which costs between Shs4,000 and Shs5,000 per kilogramme.

Mr Hakim Kakaire, a resident of Ikanda Village in Buyende District, says he used to store some maize cobs in the granary and on the kitchen roofs ahead of the planting season, but this time round he harvested the maize when it was not ready and had nothing to store.

The Kamuli District production officer, Mr Richard Musenero, adds that farmers are often duped to buy expired seeds, most of which do not germinate.

The Kabale District agriculture officer, Mr Deus Bagambana, admits that most farmers in the area are finding it hard to get quality and improved seeds that guarantee quantity harvests.

“We are aware of this challenge and it is the reason why we have linked some of them [farmers] to the Agriculture Cluster Development Project under the Ministry of Agriculture that provides improved seed and fertilizers as long as they can co-fund the costs involved,” he says.

Mr Azalia Okware, a resident of Amurwo Village in Merikit Sub-county, Tororo District, says suspending distribution of free agro-inputs was an indirect move by the government to kill the agricultural sector.

Ms Harriet Nantumbwe, a resident of Luntunku in Sembabule District, wonders how farmers will survive in the next season if the government does not come to their rescue.

 “We ask the government to provide us with planting materials because we rely entirely on our gardens to feed our families,” she says.

 According to Ms Nantumbwe, if farmers fail to grow crops such as beans and maize this season, the government will in the coming four months start providing food to Ugandans as it does for refugees.

Mr Amos Lugoloobi, the State minister for Finance, recently admitted that the government erred in diverting the money meant for procuring seeds and promised that Cabinet would reconsider its decision.

Over the years, the National Agriculture Advisory Services (Naads) has been procuring and distributing farm inputs such as seeds, seedlings and vegetative planting materials to farmers to boost food security and incomes of farming households across the country. For example in 2019, Naads distributed 4.9 million kilogrammes of improved maize seeds to 120 districts across all regions. In the same year, it distributed 1.4 million kilogrammes of improved bean seeds to 125 districts.

Mr John Kitasimbwa, a produce buyer in Kayunga Town, says currently a kilogramme of Kanyebwa beans goes for Shs4,000 while Nambaale is  Shs4,200 up from Shs3,800.

“The produce prices are expected to rise when children return to school,” Mr Kitasimbwa says.

The cost of food items such as maize flour, soap, matooke, irish potatoes, cooking oil, sugar, beans, salt and bread, among others, have been rising since the start of the year.

 For instance, a kilogramme of maize flour spiked from Shs2,000 to Shs4,000, a bunch of matooke from Shs10,000 to Shs20,000 and a kilogramme of beans costs Shs4,000 up from Shs3,000 by July.

In his address to the nation in July,  President Museveni said his government could do nothing to reverse the situation, insisting that interventions such as cutting taxes or subsidies would mislead the people about the state of the economy.

 “Me as a rebel, when I see this situation and I say, we must migrate to something else, not subsidise…Because when we subsidise, people will continue buying more and more. You will create an artificial comfort to the people for them to think things are normal when they aren’t normal and you do that by bleeding yourself,” Mr Museveni said.

budget

While agriculture is the backbone of Uganda’s economy and employs more than 68 percent of Ugandans and feeds more than 80 percent of the country’s industries with raw materials, many farmers practise it without any training, something that has limited their opportunities of transiting from subsistence farming to large scale commercial agriculture.

In the current national budget, Shs1.5 trillion was directly allocated to the agriculture sector. However, the Shs1 trillion allocation under Parish Development Model is indirectly linked to agriculture too.

This is below the required 10 percent allocation to the sector agreed upon under 2014 Malabo Declaration.

The sector is currently growing at a very low pace of 3.8 percent below the 6 percent target under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme committed to creating wealth.

Summary of the prices of some commodities.

• The price of a kilogramme of dry beans ranges between Shs4,500 and Shs5,000.

• Nambale beans which cost between Shs4,000 and Shs5,000 per kilogramme.

• Kanyebwa beans go for Shs4,000

•  A kilogramme of maize grain goes for Shs2,500.

• A kilogramme of hybrid maize grain costs Shs12,000

• A kilogramme of maize flour costs Shs4,000

•  A bunch of matooke goes for Shs20,000

• A kilogramme of groundnuts costs Shs8,000

Compiled by Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Felix Warom Okello, Clement Aluma, Ronald Acema, Simon Peter Emwamu, Robert Muhereza, Fred Muzaale, Wilson Kutamba, Joseph Omollo and Fred Wambede

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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