Excess rain blamed for low cotton production in Kasese

Cooperatives and farmers dealing in cotton in Kasese district have decried the lower than expected production of the cash crop as a result of unusually high rainfall experienced last season.

Cotton farmers who spoke to theCooperator said the excessive rain led to a delay in the cotton harvest in Kasese, thereby negatively affecting the quality of the crop and ultimately resulted in reduced prices.

According to Adrian Katwetegeke, the in-charge of the Uganda Cotton Development Authority at Nyakatonzi Cooperative Union in Kasese, over the last two seasons the price of cotton has dropped from between Shs. 30,000 – 35,000 a barrel to Shs 20,000 currently due climatic conditions.

“Cotton is one of the crops that require a little rain, but for the last two years, Kasese and Uganda, in general, have been experiencing too much rain, leading to low production,” Katwetegeke noted.

Moreover, he added, the overabundant rainfall affects farmers’ ability to spray their crop on time.

“Spraying must be done on time in order to have the desired effect. Our farmers often wait to be told that their gardens are due for spraying, especially when it is raining a lot. By the time they are ready to do it, it is too late for them to save the gardens.”

Enock Nyabwangu, a farmer revealed that cotton needs a moderate amount of water for optimal growth. He says a good cotton plant should produce twenty or more flowers per season.

“However, this season, each plant has only 10-15 flowers. This means that the profit will be less than what we used to get due to climatic conditions ‘, Nyabwangu said.

Nyabwangu and Elias Muhingo, another farmer, advocated for the establishment of irrigation schemes in order to increase cotton production in Kasese and Rubirizi districts.

“Irrigation would help farmers plant cotton during the dry season and reduce the dependence on nature,” the duo said.

Kasese district established a mini irrigation scheme in Katholu in order to help cotton farmers produce even during the dry season, but a lot more needs to be done to maximize its benefit to the farmers, according to the district Chairperson Geoffrey Sibendire.

Cotton growing tips

Lilian Kiiza, a Cotton Extension Officer in Kasese, revealed the principles that farmers need to follow if they are to maximize benefits from growing cotton.

“They need to follow five principles,” she stressed. “Ensure early land preparation, then plant, thin, weed, and spray it on time.”

Kiiza also advised farmers to engage extension workers for advisory services, including getting guidance on the correct pesticides and other inputs to use.

“The challenge is that farmers buy pesticides from shops without any advisory services on how and when to apply them, which ends up affecting their crop. They should make use of available extension services for better yields,” she said.

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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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What happened to Uganda’s Marketing Boards?

While delivering last year’s State of the Nation Address, President Museveni noted that his government remained committed to using “the export promotion and import substitution routes to storm across the middle- income barrier,” in reference to Uganda’s quest for a middle income status.

Although Uganda’s export earnings have increased over the years, from $5billion in 2016 to $7billion in 2019, they remain disproportionately dominated by agricultural products, which account for 80% of total exports.

Some of the leading exports include coffee, fish, maize, tobacco, and tea. The dominance of crops like cotton and coffee dates back to the colonial era when they were grown as official government crops.

The sector was mainly dominated by the Indians who established ginneries across the country and took over processing and marketing while government retained the research, seed breeding, extension services, input supply, and quality control functions. In addition, government established three textile mills and one spinning mill to add value to lint and to absorb the increasing production.

In the 1920s, coffee had been introduced, followed by tea and tobacco. Eventually, coffee overtook cotton in the 1930s as the country’s major foreign exchange earner, with cotton taking second place.

The Emergence of Marketing Boards

By the 1950s however, the population had started revolting against the private sector due to exploitation, and farmer cooperatives determined to organise and represent farmers’ interests gained momentum around 1952. In response, the government compensated the Asian entrepreneurs, took over ownership of cotton ginneries and transferred management to the Co-operative Unions.

Although the cooperatives succeeded in aggregating farmers’ produce, marketing remained a problem. This would lead to the emergence of statutory marketing boards, to among others, stabilise produce price in the face of fluctuating world prices, insure the commodity dependent economy against turbulent world market conditions, promote and encourage orderly marketing of the country’s leading crop exports, and promote an increase in their production. Other motivations included the strengthening of the producers’ bargaining power and guaranteeing a fair price for farmers.

Thus the Coffee Marketing Board was constituted under the Coffee Act of 1963, four years after the Lint Marketing Board was constituted under the Lint Marketing Board Ordinance (No.16) of 1959. Five years later, the Produce Marketing Board would be set up by the Produce Marketing Board Act of 1968 to create efficient marketing facilities for all controlled “minority’ cash crops like maize, wheat, beans, tobacco, millet, and sorghum.

The established Lint Marketing Board (LMB) had a monopoly of trade in all lint and cotton seeds, and soon, production shot up, registering Uganda’s highest ever cotton production of 470,000 bales of lint in 1969/70.

Russel Hotel, former Cotton
Marketing board (Internet Photo)

The farmers in primary societies supplied to the unions, who later sold to the various marketing boards.

But the subsequent instability in the country gravely affected the marketing boards, setting forward a downturn not just in their fortunes but in cotton production in general. By 1988, production had fallen to a record low of 11,000 bales.

“Uganda Cotton ceased to be traded by grade on the international market and was instead traded by source ginnery of the lint,” Joseph Kitandwe, the Registrar of cooperatives in the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives told theCooperator.

By the time the NRM government came to power in 1986, all the Marketing Boards, like other state corporations, were no longer the thriving enterprises they had once been. High running costs, huge debts and general mismanagement had left the boards on their knees, requiring bailouts from the central government.

Like other major public corporations facing the same dilemma, the marketing boards were consequently swallowed up in the liberalisation of the 90s that saw the economy shift from public control to private-led.

Although liberalisation gave the economy a much-needed boost, it had the reverse effect on producer organisations and cooperatives. Once-powerful cooperatives like East and West Mengo, and the Bunyoro Kitara Growers Cooperative Union all collapsed, precipitating the eventual closure of the Cooperative Bank that was their source of money for crop financing.

Dissolution of the Marketing Boards

Although it’s now more than two decades since these marketing boards were liquidated, contention remains on the manner in which the liquidation was done, and on the accountability of the funds accrued from the sale.

Reports persist for example, that the Shs 3.8 bn that accrued from the sale of the Produce Marketing Board (PMB) remains unaccounted for to-date. Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the then Privatization Unit accounting officer, and current secretary to the treasury says the money owed to PMB was written off as a bad debt.

It is not only the PMB that was irregularly sold off. The Coffee Marketing Board (CMB) premises based in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb, were also irregularly sold off to an investor.

Testimonies given before the sectoral committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on the petition by former workers of Coffee Marketing Board under liquidation, in 2013, show that its assets were freely given to an investor on the orders of the then State Minister for directives from President Museveni.

The former employees of CMB told Parliament that properties including buildings, land, machinery, and equipment were freely given out to investors.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former staff told theCooperator that the CMB properties were valued at Shs 33 bn in 1995 by Bageine and Property Holdings Limited, but would later be dubiously re-valued at Shs 6 billion in 1999.

Filling the gaps

Kitandwe says that in the place of the Lint Marketing Board, government established the Cotton Development Organisation (CDO) in 1994.

“Cotton marketing and processing were liberalised and the Cotton Development Organisation (CDO) was established as the authority to promote cotton production, processing and marketing and to regulate the cotton subsector,” he said.

The Coffee Marketing Board (CMB) was also replaced by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) with a relatively similar mandate.

It is the Produce Marketing Board that was not replaced by any central government authority. Instead, big private companies and organisations like Aponye, Josephs’ Initiatives, Afrokai, and the UN’s World Food Programme have risen in its place, to dominate the produce market.

Former Produce Marketing Board offices being occupied by
World Food Programme in Nalukolongo. Internet photo

The restructuring meant that cooperatives could now interface directly with the buyers and ginners, without marketing board intermediaries.

“This was a very good opportunity for the farmers since it was reducing the number of middlemen between them and the market,” said Kitandwe.

There was one problem though. The liquidation of the marketing boards was not done alongside policy support for cooperatives to fill the ensuing gap.

“Government did not really seem to have Cooperatives in their plans. They (government), for example, didn’t mind how cooperatives would access credit for crop financing,” Kitandwe said.

As a result, a number of cooperatives, in a bid to enhance their capacity for the new mandate, turned to high-interest credit, which suffocated the majority.

“Majority lost property and closed shop with nothing left, due to huge debts,” Kitandwe said. He cited the example of the current Victoria University building along Jinja Road which was previously owned by East Mengo Growers Cooperative Union but was taken over after the Union failed to clear a bank loan.

Moreover, without the active membership of the farmers, the CDO struggled to gain traction amongst cotton farmers. Liberalisation also meant that new players entered the market, and with limited regulation, left many local farmers at the mercy of multiple middlemen, some unscrupulous.

But Mrs. Jolly Sabune, the Managing Director of Cotton Development Organisation (CDO) argues that, the restructuring has not been without gains. She says the CDO has supported the establishment of close to 2,000 acres of cotton farms spread in 20 districts, mostly tended to by prisons and army units. These, she says have helped increase and boost production.

Critics, however, argue that the biggest failure of the Cotton Development Organisation has been its inability to add value to exported cotton. Over 90% of locally produced lint is exported as raw material. So far, only 5% of what is produced (cotton) is consumed locally, mainly by the two lead firms, Fine Spinners in Bugolobi, Kampala and Jinja-based Nyanza Textile Industry.

Should Marketing Boards be revived?

In the past, there have been calls for the revival of marketing boards. But Kitandwe suggests, it is no longer necessary.

“Some cooperatives are already above this,” he told us. “Cooperatives like Sebei Elgon Cooperative Union, Ankole and Bugisu Cooperative Union are now selling directly to the international markets, under the Fair Trade Agreement.”

The Fair Trade Agreement is an instrument of the Cooperation for Fair Trade in Africa (COFTA), itself a network of Fair Trade support organisations that assist grassroots producers in the development of quality products, as well as providing market access support.

“Under this arrangement for example, Rwenzori Farmers Marketing Cooperative Society is the only primary society in the East Africa region certified to export cotton,” Mr. Joseph Kule Mayenda, the former export manager of Nyakatonzi Growers Cooperative Union in Kasese said.

“Others like Bukonzo Organic Cooperative Union are certified to export coffee, while Bundikakempa Growers Cooperative Society in Bundibugyo is certified to export cocoa worldwide.”

Several other cooperatives are operating under the same arrangement. These include Bukonzo Joint Savings and Credit Cooperative Society, Ankole Coffee Producer Cooperative Union in Bushenyi, Masaka Cooperative Union in Central and Bugisu and Sebei Elgon Cooperative Union. They’re all certified to export under the Fair Trade agreement.

“This is what other cooperative unions should emulate as a way of moving forward,” says Kitandwe.

But analysts argue that although the Fair Trade Agreement has been helpful to producer organisations in the short term, in the long term, it is unsuited to guarantee farmers fair prices and strengthen cooperatives.

Moreover, in the absence of marketing boards, cooperatives have been unable to guarantee quality standards of the produce. Kitandwe points that the issue of quality remains the preserve of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF).

But MAAIF department has not helped much, and substandard inputs continue to flood the market, affecting the quality of produce. The lack of structured procurement procedures for cooperatives also means that cooperatives are unable to tame the problem.

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority which took over the oversight function of the coffee sector says its mandate is limited to regulation and promotion.

“Our mandate does not extend to the buying and selling of coffee. That is for the private actors,” Dr. Emmanuel Iyamulemye, the Executive Director of UCDA told theCooperator in a phone interview. “Neither does it extend to the provision of credit; that’s the role of Microfinance Support Centre, and the Uganda Development Bank (UDB), that government has been recapitalising.”

But while it is true that part of the motivation for the recapitalisation of UDB and the Microfinance Support Centre is to provide low-interest credit to farmers, and industrialists, the two financial institutions’ broad mandate, and their still limited capital portfolio mean they are incapable of meaningfully propping up crop value chains.

Kitandwe notes that the only way to have the marketing boards revived is if cooperatives advocate for their revival like they did for the Cooperative Bank.

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