Farmers shun Agoro irrigation scheme water

Members of Agoro self-help irrigation cooperative society have stopped using water from the scheme blaming it for destroying their crops and causing their gardens to lose fertility.

Agoro Irrigation Scheme was rehabilitated between 2012- 2013 at a tune of Shs 27 billion by the ministry of water and environment, to boost agricultural productivity in the area. It is used by about 900 farmers, including 187 members of the society.

However, some members of the society, who mainly grow vegetables, told theCooperator that their crops were negatively impacted after the irrigation scheme was rehabilitated.

Corina Aloyo, a farmer and member of the Agoro cooperative, watered her vegetables using water from the scheme, said the water causes yellowing and stunting of vegetables.

“I planted 3 acres of eggplants, cabbages, and beans but they all died,” she said.

Aloyo believes the same water is to blame for the cooperative’s loss of 10 acres of vegetables worth Shs. 40m, last season, which many had blamed on a mysterious disease.

Denis Ocan, another member of the cooperative, said the water caused his garden to become very hard with white patches, as though the water was mixed with salt. The result, he said would be very low yields and loss of soil fertility.

“According to my own observation, this water for irrigation has a problem. First, if you spray it in the garden, even healthy crops start changing and withering. Secondly, the garden becomes very hard and whitish and loses fertility after a short time,” Ocan said

Ocan revealed although the problem has existed since 2013, the true impact of the scheme on yields has been masked because farmers kept abandoning the gardens that lost fertility, for fertile ones.

“This water for irrigation has been used for long. But, since we still have vast farmland here, farmers have abandoned several plots that have lost fertility,” he said

Francis Todwong another member of the cooperative, adds that the majority of their members have abandoned the irrigation scheme and the gardens around it, resorting instead to farming in wetlands and virgin land far away from it.

Brenda Acao, the Communications Officer for the northern region in the Ministry of Water and Environment, said the ministry is unaware of any issues with the water from Agoro irrigation scheme and has thus far received no report about the farmers’ concerns.

“As far as I know there is no problem with the water. But since the concern is from the users, we shall send a team of experts to do an assessment and understand the concerns of the users,” she said.

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SACCOs grappling with fraud, poor governance

A significant number of Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOs) in Uganda have suffered fraud and poor governance, a new report indicates.

The report was released by the Project for Financial Inclusion in Rural Areas (PROFIRA), an organization that monitors the performance of different SACCOS in Uganda.

A study by the organization found that 64 out of 453 SACCOs supported under the program had collapsed, while 312 are grappling with fraud and poor governance issues, among other challenges.

Collins Agaba, PROFIRA’s Program Manager, says that only 77 of the SACCOS supported by PROFIRA had no issues.

“141 have at least one problem, and the rest have suffered more than three problems,” he noted, adding:

“We found that the main challenges facing SACCOs include defaulting on payment of loans by members, low volume of business and poor financial practices.”

Agaba explained that whereas cooperatives are managed by elected committees, the leaders chosen often lack the knowledge required to manage them.

“They then end up depending on untrustworthy staff who embezzle members’ deposits.”

In response, he revealed, PROFIRA has embarked on empowering members of different SACCOs with the requisite financial skills.

Robert Odur, the Chairperson Board of Directors of Ikwera SACCO, agreed with the report’s findings.

He cited the case of Ikwera SACCO which was established in 2009 which has had its portfolio drop from over Shs 170m two years ago,to less than Shs 50m currently.

“169 million shillings was loaned out by Ikwera Savings and Credit Cooperative Society Limited in the financial year 2018/2019, but in the last financial year, we only gave out 42 million shillings as loans. Our clients are not able to repay the money in time and loan recovery is a challenge,” he said in an interview.

Kwania District Commercial Officer, Patrick Bura expressed concern about the rate at which SACCOs in the district are collapsing, saying it could lead to an increase in poverty rates among the population if not urgently dealt with.

” There is an urgent need to rejuvenate the failed SACCOs and equip the SACCO leaders with management skills or else many people will suffer and even lose their assets in search of the financial services that SACCOs are meant to offer.”

Joyce Acio, a resident of Aduku town council notes, people are likely to run to money lenders whom she says are worse than banks given their exorbitant interest rates.

She argues that having SACCO members manage them introduces a conflict of interest, thereby negatively impacting their performance.

“When the SACCO staff are also members, they start taking loans and bringing them back without interest because no one is supervising them,” she said.

Acio advises all Saccos to establish Internal Audit Committees whose task should be to regularly audit the financial institutions to avoid embezzlement.

She also called on District Commercial Officers to ensure capacity building for the SACCO leaders as one measure to minimize the chances of their collapse.

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