Rehabilitation works at Agoro irrigation scheme worry farmers

LAMWO – The slow pace at which the rehabilitation works at Agoro Irrigation Scheme is moving is worrying farmers.

They argue that as the dry season sets in next month, many are likely to be affected since the water at the scheme will not be reaching their farmlands.

Farmers within Agoro Irrigation Scheme, under Agoro Self-help Irrigation Cooperative Society Limited, in Agoro sub-county, Lamwo district total about 600.

They grow crops like sorghum, millet, rice and vegetables, mostly for commercial purpose.

In 2013, Ministry of Water and Environment injected Shs 27 billion into the rehabilitation of Agoro irrigation scheme in its bid to boost farming productivity among the community.

However, due to shoddy work, the facility has not helped members of the cooperative to realize their expectations.

In August this year, the Ministry of Water and Environment reached out to a contractor to carry out rehabilitation works to the tune of Shs 1.7 billion and it is expected to be finished by April next year.

However, the works have not been to expectations, looking at its slow pace.

Farmers argue that they are at cross- roads, as the canals at the scheme are too deep thereby failing the water to reach their farmlands.

The irrigation scheme has three sections; the water collection point, where water is pumped to the dam before it reaches the drainage where the water is channeled through the canals before it reaches the gardens.

However, the farmers argue that the dam is not appropriate to the drainage, something that makes it difficult for the water to reach the canals that supply water to the gardens.

The LC III Chairperson, Agoro sub-county Denis Onyon, argues that the Ministry of Water was duped when it got a contractor who also subcontracted another company that has failed to do the works to its expectations.

“Imagine from August 10th, this year, to date, it’s 2% of work done. It will soon be dry season, but we have nothing in place.”

The farmers have reached out to us leaders, but we cannot help much since several meetings called to meet the contractor have not yielded any positive result.

Allan Ocaya, Chairperson of the cooperative, tasked Ministry of Water officials to task the contractor to speed up with the works otherwise farmers are losing hope.

“If you are to look at the works on the ground and the part payment of Shs 300 million given to the contractor, the work is too small,” he said.

Ms Brenda Okao, Communications Officer, Northern region in Ministry of Water and Environment acknowledged that the rehabilitation works are moving at a slow pace.

“The contractor is on the ground working but he needs to be pushed and that is what we are doing as the ministry,” he said.

One of the farmers at the scheme, Joyce Lakaraber, who deals in cabbage growing said, the Ministry of Water should consider sourcing contractors within the district for effective supervision.

“If the contractor is from within, we can put them to task for speedy works,” she said.

Many of the members are considering pulling out, yet they feel working under a cooperative has been key in improving their livelihood at household level.

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Prime Minister Nabanja accuses Minister Onek of indiscipline.

KAMPALA – The Prime Minister Robinah Nabanja has accused the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Hillary Onek of indiscipline.

This was after Minister Hillary Onek wrote a letter trending on social media and copied the president accusing her of usurping his roles and that of his deputy as Ministers of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees.

“I have not seen the letter but if the minister decided to write to me that is different. It is indiscipline because his office is next to my office so if he felt something bad was going on he would have come to my office and we harmonize,” says Nabbanja.

“You want to tell me that people should steal money when you are seated and I fail to come in. Fellow Ugandans things have changed, so I ask my fellow ministers to come and we walk together because we have little time. We are not going to blow off,” she added.

This all started after assuming her office, the Prime Minister immediately started visiting disaster affected areas such as the Kasese floods where she delivered several relief items such as blankets, meals and soap.

In a letter circulating on social media dated October 29, 2021, signed by Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Hilary Onek complained about Nabbanja’s conduct of not involving his office while executing duties related to his docket.

“From the time of your appointment, I have been observing with total displeasure the fact that my role and that of my deputy as the ministers in charge of refugees and disaster and the lead policy makers on matters of refugee and disaster management have been totally usurped by your office,” the letter reads in part.

Onek also adds that the Prime Minister has been side-lining the top officials and only considering his juniors while visiting refugee camps.

“You have been calling for meetings, going to disaster affected places and visiting refugee settlements without informing either my office or that of my deputy. To my shock, my staff who I supervise are the ones being called for a meeting with the local leadership of Bududa without involving my office or even the area Members of Parliament, which may lead to decisions being made that contradicts earlier and official cabinet position

Hon Onek adds that using such approaches will duplicate his efforts in the office of disaster and preparedness.

The letter also compels the Prime Minister to restrain herself from using excessive force while pinning corrupt leaders holding government positions without making further investigations.

“You have also purged the department of disaster management, taken over the distribution of relief items and causing interdiction of staff members without proper investigation. The interdicted staff were accused of causing a financial loss without conducting a forensic audit by involving office of the auditor general,” reads in part.

“On 5th October 2021, you wrote to my office halting the settlement of refugees in Kyangwali over land ownership, this decision was arrived at without involving either me or my deputy or any technical staff from the department of refugees” the letter further reads.

Onek further advised Nabbanja that her constitutional powers stop at coordinating legislative agenda, leading government business in parliament and monitoring all ministries and government programs but not involving in micro management of other ministries.

“If you decide to micromanage other ministries, what then is the role of the senior ministers who are supposed to plan, make policies and deliver on the manifestoes of H.E the president,” Onek asked in a letter.

The letter was copied to President Y.K Tubuhaburwa Museveni, Speaker of Parliament, Deputy speaker of parliament and to the PPS to H.E the President.

Onek further threatened to withdraw from the ministry responsible for disasters and preparedness should the prime minister continue working in isolation.

“If you have decided to carry on working like this and rendering my docket irrelevant, kindly put it in writing to H.E the president who is the appointing authority and I will relieve myself on my responsibilities and allow you carry on with your duties, “reads the letter.

In a media briefing on Tuesday, prime minister Nabbanja vowed not to withdraw her operational methods but insisted to keep working with only government officials willing to change the face of Uganda in terms of service delivery.

Most legislators supported Nabbanja’s way of doing government works claiming that it will awaken ministers who have been sleeping on government positions for long.

Others claimed that Nabbanja’s business of doing things will undermine powers of her junior ministers in government.

“Nabbanja wants to show off to the president that she is hardworking but in turn she is undermining her junior ministers,” says MP Paul Semakula Rutamaguza representing Nakaseke South.

Our correspondent tried to reach Minister Onek to respond to this accusation but his renowned phone numbers were off.

Robinah Nabbanja was appointed as Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business in Parliament in June 2021 replacing Rt Hon. Dr Ruhakana Rugunda.

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No cabinet position yet on bail – Attorney General

KAMPALA – The Attorney General, Kiryowa Kiwanuka has said cabinet is yet to adopt a position on the issue of scrapping bail on certain cases as advocated for by the President.

Mr. Kiryowa Kiwanuka, while attending an engagement meeting between the Government Chief Whip and the media at Parliament put it clear that cabinet has not taken any position yet on the issue of bail.

Kiryowa’s reaction follows multiple media reports that a position had already been taken, and soon it will be an issue on the floor of Parliament.

The Attorney General said, the issue was brought in cabinet, and discussions are still on-going before a position is adopted.

“It is an issue in cabinet, and discussions are still on going. You will all know once a position is adopted,” he told the media.

Kiryowa Kiwanuka also called on the media to always invest in research while on duty to have informed positions.

President Museveni has revived the bail debate with intent to have it scraped off on certain of crimes.

Politicians and other political observers have remarked that the move is intended to target political dissent and clamping on politicians.

In his opinion, President Museveni thinks capital offenders should be denied bail, or the constitutional pre-trial release until after at least six months on remand.

The Constitution Article 23, Clause 6 grants offenders a right to pre-trial release with a basis in Article 28 of the same constitution which states that an accused person is innocent until proved or pleads guilty.

Cabinet is set to introduce a range of reforms, among them amendments to the Constitution and the Police Act, to tighten the hands of judicial officers in exercising the discretion to grant or deny bail.

The Attorney General calls for calmness as work on the proposed reforms proceed.

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Agoro Cooperative members decry delayed repair of Irrigation scheme

Members of the Agoro Self-Help Irrigation Cooperative Society have denounced the delayed rehabilitation of the Agoro Irrigation Scheme in Lawmo district, saying the delay has robbed them of the livelihood they earned from growing rice.

The 187 members of the cooperative used to depend on rice growing as their main source of earning. But last year a team from the Ministry of Water and Environment stopped rice growers from using the irrigation scheme until it has been rehabilitated.

The Scheme was last rehabilitated between 2012-2013 to a tune of Shs 27bn, but a few years after, the water pipes got damaged and parts of the canal silted.

In 2019, the government, through the Ministry of Water and Environment said it would embark on repairs to the said scheme, with the project expected to cost Shs 6bn, after it was abandoned by many farmers because of its poor state.

In March 2020, officials from the ministry delivered over 1000 water pipes to the site but, farmers say, the pipes have been lying idle at the office premises of Agoro cooperative since then.

Affected livelihoods

Teopista Atim says it has been growing rice since the year 2000. She used the proceeds from rice to buy land, build a house and educate her four children.

She said in the early 2000s, her annual earnings from growing rice ranged from Shs 10-12m from 17 acres.

“At the time, the price of rice per kilogram was still low,” she quips.

However, the last time she planted 10 acres of rice in 2019, she earned Shs 16 million.

With the deterioration of the irrigation scheme, however, her source of income has been adversely affected.

“I used to grow rice which could give me a lot of money. But my production level started going down in 2013 because the irrigation scheme was poorly rehabilitated.”

Atim says the irrigation was poorly done, such that the water channels are below the gardens, thus farmers have to set up obstructions by piling sacks of sand to have water flow into their gardens.

“They [Ministry of Water and Environment] promised to start repairing the irrigation scheme in 2020 but they are yet to show up,“ she narrates.

Unable to grow rice, as usual, she tried other crops. It would end in disaster.

“Last year, I planted 10 acres of maize, which was destroyed by floods. I only harvested 3 bags of sorghum, which I used to brew malwa,” Atim said.

Margaret Oryema, another rice farmer, says she started growing rice before the irrigation scheme was rehabilitated, and used the proceeds to pay school fees for her three children up to university level, single-handedly. She also completed constructing a house which her husband started and failed to complete.

Oryema said she used to raise between Shs 7-10m from growing rice on her 8-acre farm before the rehabilitation of the irrigation scheme went awry.

However, last year she did not plant rice and does not expect to earn much this year if repair of the scheme is not expedited.

“Last year we never planted rice. And we are not sure of this year because work on the irrigation scheme has not even started. I no longer have money in my account because rice was my main source of income,” Oryema said.

Denis Ocan, another member of the cooperative, expressed disappointment with the fact that the affected farmers have received no update on the start date of the planned repairs despite a delay of almost a year so far.

No funds

Brenda Akao, the Communications Officer in the Ministry of Water and Environment in Northern Uganda, admitted that the ministry had delivered pipes for rehabilitating the irrigation scheme, but they are awaiting some funds before the repair works can start.

“Yes, I can confirm that we delivered pipes there. But we are now waiting for funding. Our commencement of work there will depend on the availability of funds,” Akao said.

The government adopted an irrigation policy in 2018 to improve agricultural production, with one of the implementation strategies being to construct 70,000 small irrigation schemes countrywide- one for each parish.

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Lango Cooperative Union leases 11-square kilometre land to German investor

Leaders of Lango Cooperative Union have leased out a sizeable chunk of its land assets to Smax-Group, a German investor, in a five-year deal that will see the investors develop the redundant land.

The land that measures about 1,165 hectares (about 11.65 square kilometers) is located in Angayiki village, Chawente Sub County, Kwania District.

Formed in the 1950s by cotton farmers in the greater Lango sub-region, Lango Cooperative Union lost all its assets in the early 1980s to commercial banks and some unscrupulous individuals.

However, the union later reclaimed its land in Angayiki in the ongoing struggle to repossess its prime assets.

Maxwell Akora, the Lango Cooperative Union Chairperson, who doubles as Maruzi County MP, says the union has leased out the recovered Angayiki land, a move aimed at generating funds for the operationalization of its primary societies.

“The long-term lease of the land will see the investor pay 1.1 million shillings per acre to the union. I believe this will secure the land from encroachers and bring benefits to all our primary cooperatives,” he said in an interview.

“The land has not been sold, but leased out for a period of five years, to raise money to help the 144 primary societies under Lango Cooperative Union, “Akora said. He said the move will generate Shs 1.3 bn in seed capital for farmers, to be recycled every season to run the union’s activities.

He noted that while the union had received Shs 2 bn from the government out of the Shs 17 bn owed to it in compensation for losses made during the 1981-1986 guerrilla war that brought the NRM/A into power, that money alone is not sufficient to run the union’s activities.

According to Akora, the German Investor will develop infrastructure, set up irrigation systems, process and distribute quality seeds to farmers and later buy from them at good prices for export.

“After the lease period elapses, the assets built by the investor will remain in the possession of the Union,” he said.

The Union Chairperson further revealed that according to an MoU signed with the union, the German investor will build a technical school for training farmers, and 15% of profit gained by the investor will be shared by Lango Cooperative Union.

“They have already surveyed the land; they will rent the land for growing soya beans and cereals like maize, beans and support farmers in all the 144 primary societies.”

Tom Neo, one of the prominent farmers in the district and a member of Alira Primary Society commented, “The Union leadership needs to be transparent and accountable. Leasing out the land to an investor is a good move only if they can be transparent about it to members.”

Another farmer, Brenda Akidi of Aninolal Primary Cooperative Society, welcomed with excitement the move to lease out the land to an investor, saying it will not only save the land from encroachers but also provide jobs to farmers.

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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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