Monday, August 3, 2009

Rampant fake agricultural inputs distort agricultural incentives to farmers in Uganda.

On July 25th 2009, I was together with NARO’s Mrs. Kagwa Margaret hosted by Mr. Eric Luyuyo on Jinja’s Bamboo FM for a talkshow that focussed on Agriculture. The timing was important. First, a National Agricultural trade show where farmers are expected to showcase their achivements was taking place in eastern Uganda i.e at the Source of the Nile. Second, Famine was and is still ravaging that part of the country. A myraid callers were agitated by the lesser than life situation they were faced with. However, amidst such a dire situation, listeners still could afford to sacrifice airtime to touch base with a public conversation on radio that touch thier lives. I was excited and humbled by their spirit of citizenship and their indelible hopes that famine and disease can be overcome in their part of the country. Caller after caller exhibited grief over unchecked spread of fake agricultural inputs. Many hinted at quiting farming after having borrowed money from Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) to procure better seeds, fertilizer, agri chemicals and so on hoping for better yeilds! That didnot come to pass and many are into hiding because they cannot pay their loans. This reminds me of yet another classic story of a one young farmer investor, Andrew Kikira from Rukungiri who in 2008 opened up 100 acres of land in Bwambara subcounty to tap into the lucrative rice farming and trade. He procured Agro-supernil herbicide from General and Allied Ltd, container village in Kampala. He was aware that muscle power for weeding would be time wasting and expensive. The Agro-supernil was expected to kill all the weed. This never happened. His projection was to harvest 500 bags of unhurled rice. He harvested only 80 bags! He suspended farming!! What lessons do we then learn from such breathtaking testimonies?
First, we should note that underhand profiteering tendencies of some input dealers can in the long run preside over the death and burial of the agriculture sector in Uganda. Fake chemicals have a big destructive impact on farming. If it is a pesticide, the pests will not die even when a farmer applies it regularly. If it is a herbicide, the grass will just continue growing even after the harmless chemical has been applied. Consequently, the farmer will notice a decrease in yields and adverse effects on the environment and human life. The fake chemicals accelerate soil deterioration resulting in substantial crop losses and in the larger picture, it affects economic growth.
Secondly, we are reminded of chronic failure of government and its responsible agencies to regulate and enforce starndards regime in the agriculture sector. Why should we for example have adulterated chemicals like Glyphosate, Dithane M45 or Mancozeb 80WP, Dursban 4E, Ridomil Gold MZ 68WP, Ag. Basle and Furadan and so on on the market? Why should we have adulterated fertilizer like NPK, DAP and Urea on the market? Why should farmers buy expensive seeds on the market whose germination rate is 20%. Why? What happened to agriculture inspectors in the Ministry of Animal Industry and Fisheries? What happened to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards?
Thirdly, our farmers are left at the hands of unscruplous agriculture input dealers who have managed to abuse the fevourable zero rate agriculture input tax regime in the country to exploit and cheat farmers. In 2007 the price of 50 kg NPK fertilzer bag was 45,000Ushs compared to now 140,000 in 2009. Hand hoe price shifted from 2500Ushs to now 4500Ushs in 2009! Oxplough from 125000Ushs in 2007 to 250,000 Ushs in 2009. A one day old chick has also doubled the price, from 500Ushs in 2008 to now 1000 in 2009! This madness must be arrested. Farmers need protection from these distorted markets otherwise the good action by government of removing taxes on agro-iputs will continue to only benefit private input importers and dealers at expense of farmers to whome the incentive was meant to serve in the first place.
Finally, in this foregoing chaos, even guenine agro-input dealers are going to suffer if they dont come out to work with farmers to expose those involved in distortion of inputs markets. As a Farmers Federation, we are going to open up complait desks in all our branches across the country such that dealers who sale fake inputs to our farmers are exposed and reprimanded. We are in discussions with pro farmers groups like Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment and AT- Uganda to persue a public interest litigation against fradulent agro input companies and auxilliary dealers that are increasingly becoming painful to the farmers flaternity.

Rwakakamba Morrison
Resident Consultant and Manager Policy Research and Advocacy
Uganda National Farmers

How to arrest Famine in Uganda

On Monday 15th June 2009, Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) in Patnership with Uganda National Council for Science and Technology(UNCST) held a special multstakholder conversation on biotechnology. In attendance were Farmers, Enviromentalists and Scientists. This dialogue presented a classic interface between farmers and other actors along the agriculture value chain. Enviromentalists were furious at advances of Genenetic Modified Organisms (GMO) in Uganda. Scientists were passionate about the future of agriculture in Uganda with biotechnology as a catapult for sustainable agriculture development and food chains. Mr. Arthur Makara of Science Foundation for Development (SCIFODE) argued that humans have used the biological processes of microorganisms since six thousand years ago to make useful food products, such as bread and cheese and to preserve dairy products.Farmers were abit confused on which way to go! Folks, the debate on wether Uganda should go organic or GMO is largely unsettled! In April 2008, the government of Uganda ockeyed a policy on biotechnology and biosafety, however the bill necessary to operationalise it is stalled! Nobody seems to talk about the bill anymore! The country has thus fallen short on its committments to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's Cartagena Protocol to protect biodiversity from any potential harm posed by genetically modified (GM) organisms.This delay of the law, means that the Government of Uganda is still soul searching and trapped in between the advances of terminator seed companies like MOSANTO that have for long advanced GMO agenda and the green arguments of conservative Enviromentalists like Evergreen, organicists like NOGAMU and other civic groups whose stand on GMO’s has been an emphatic no! Organisations like Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) have been largely moderate arguing that once the biosafety law is in place both Organic and GMOs can operate in Uganda. I belong to the latter school of thought. Those in favour of GMOs have argued that Biotechnology will be used to address problems in all areas of agricultural production and processing. This includes plant breeding, to raise and stabilize yield, to improve resistance against pests, disease and abiotic stresses such as drought and cold; and to enhance the nutritional content of food, develop low cost disease free planting materials for crops such as banana, potato and coffee, and creating new tools for the diagnosis and treatment of plant and animal diseases and for the measurement and conservation of bio-resources. To the scientist Biotech helps also to speed up breeding programs for plants, animals and marine resources such as fish. Animal. Biotech is important in animal disease diagnostics and development of animal vaccines against several diseases. When I met 300 farmers for a converstaion in Rukungiri on 26th june 2009 and whose major problem is dwindling land resources for agriculture, I told them that the asnswer lies in spin farming with biotechnology as a catapult. I told farmers to take on enterprises like mushroom farming, poultry, Zero grazing cows and so on. Such enterprises dont need land. Another key challenge raised by farmers in Rukungiri, was unprecedented diseases for crops like coffee, cassava and bananas. The counsel from scientists was adoptation of immunised planting materials and use of seed that are water efficient and resistant to drought. This therefore means that any strategy or action for arresting famine and hunger that is spreading like wild fire in the country must underscore robust investiment in biotechnology and persue scientific agriculuture with in the context of agriculture zoning that allocates areas for GMOs and organic agriculture. The foregoing actions must also be butressed by initiatives that harness water for irrigation and wind for energy to support agroproccessing in rural areas. We neednt mention rural infrastructure installation. After that we can start telling farmers to do farming with a bussiness imperative, link them to bussiness enhancing credit and markets. This is how Uganda will shift from nature based or chance based agriculture systems to more predictable, practicle and susstainable agriculture. Instead of lecturing farmers all the time, I think we need to listen to them in order to practically respond to their needs. Despite the mountain challenges farmers have experienced over the years, they have always been resilient and will soon overcome.

Rwakakamba Morrison
Resident consultant and Manager, Policy Research and Advocacy
Uganda National Farmers Federation