Pakwach: Rising L. Albert waters destroy local businesses

Business owners in Panyimur Town Council, Pakwach district, are in tears over the rising levels of Lake Albert that have submerged several business premises in the area, leading to loss of income estimated in the millions of shillings.

Genaro Muswa Maditwun, who owns one of the top hotels in Panyimur Town Council, Pakwach district, says he started his hotel business in 1998 in Panyimur, then one of the busiest landing sites in West Nile.

However, he says his business has been decimated by waters from L. Albert which have cut off access to his hotel and submerged a significant portion of it.

“I am making a loss of Shs 1.2m in monthly income, before factoring in the repair costs once the waters recede,” Muswa said.

Several businesses and infrastructure along the buffer zones of lakes and rivers in Panyimur Town Council, Pakwach district, have been submerged or destroyed following increased rains that started last year, resulting in the rising water level of L. Albert.

All income generating activities at the landing sites, both government-funded and privately owned, have come to a standstill as a result of the ongoing disaster.

“I am currently suffering from diabetics and [high blood] pressure, in addition to servicing a loan. I can no longer look for capital to start a new business,” a despondent Muswa says.

Paul Kinobe, the Chairman of Panyimur’s business community says majority of the business premises in the area have been submerged by water, making them impossible for customers to access.

“Accommodation facilities like hotels, bars and lodges have been the most affected,” he said.

Kinobe called upon the government to assess the situation of business owners affected by the flooding and come to their rescue.

“Our local business operators are in a panic about how to pay back loans they had borrowed, since their businesses are greatly affected by the rising water level and the lowered incomes as a result,” Kinobe said.

Cholera fears

Meanwhile, Panyimur Sub County, LC III Chairman, Shaban Ofoi expressed concern that the area, known in the past as an epicenter for Cholera in the region, might be headed for another attack of the epidemic since most of the latrines have collapsed or been submerged by the rising water levels.

“Our latrines and clean water sources at the landing sites are submerged with water. The few facilities left are being overwhelmed by the population. We could face another Cholera epidemic if close attention is not paid to helping the local community,” Ofoi said.

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400 farmers in Kwania receive heifers under restocking program

More than 400 farmers from six sub-counties in Kwania district have received heifers worth Shs 576m under the restocking program.

In 2014, the government earmarked Shs 20 bn to restore livelihoods and alleviate poverty in West Nile, Acholi, Lango and the Teso-sub regions through restocking under the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) following the two-decades-long rebellion by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The heifers will benefit widows, widowers, the elderly, persons with disabilities, orphans and the Ex-combatants from the Sub Counties of Aduku, Inomo, Chawente, Nambieso, Abongomola and Aduku Town Council.

Bazil Okello Onac, the Kwania District LCV Chairperson asked the beneficiaries to adhere to the restocking guidelines issued by the government and use the animals to alleviate poverty at the grassroots.

“They should keep these animals for at least four years, according to the government guidelines, and let them multiply in order to eradicate poverty. We want to hear success stories on what the restocking program has done for them,” he said.

In a similar vein, Salim Komakech, the Kwania Resident District Commissioner cautioned the beneficiaries against selling off the animals, but rather urged them to use them to improve their income.

“The president’s vision is to empower households that are not yet in the money-making economy. Beneficiaries should not sell off these animals, but instead use them for production. We as security shall ensure that these guidelines are indeed followed,” he said in an interview.

Bonny Okello, a resident of Ikwera cell in Aduku Town Council and beneficiary of the program, thanked the government for the donation, saying the animals will go a long way to improve on his livelihood.

Another beneficiary, a widow and resident of Anginyi Village in Aduku Sub County, Shopia Odul, says this is the first time she has personally benefitted from the government.

“I am going to look after the animal well and once it multiplies, I will use the income to pay for my four children school and provide us a better life,” she pledged.

Dr Charles Opeto, the Kwania District Veterinary Officer said that Aduku Town Council was slated to receive 26 herds of cattle, Aduku 65, Nambieso 130, Inomo 95, while Abongomola and Chawente would each get 82.

The restocking program has faced a host of challenges since its inception, including inadequate supervision and alleged ghost beneficiaries.

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UCDA cracks down on immature coffee trade

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) has declared war against traders engaged in buying immature coffee from farmers.

UCDA’s regional extension officer for Rwenzori region, Emmanuel Tumwizere, said picking immature coffee berries affects the quality of coffee in the country.

“Coffee is continuously losing quality because of some farmers harvesting immature coffee which ends up rotting. Others use poor post harvest handling methods like drying it on the bare ground, which also negatively impacts on its quality,” he said.

Even consumers are put at risk by immature coffee, which Tumwizere says can become “hazardous”.

“When farmers pick immature coffee, they first keep it in sacks and hence it ends up molding. This develops a toxic acid which is hazardous to consumers because it causes cancer,” he said.

He further noted that such poor harvesting practices threaten to undermine the progress that has been made in promoting coffee farming in the region.

“People in the Rwenzori region have responded positively to planting more coffee but there are some farmers who are not adhering to good harvesting standards by harvesting immature coffee,” he said.

Traders involved in buying immature coffee tend to lure farmers into selling to them by offering more money for it than they would pay at harvest time when mature coffee floods the market.

According to locals, traders buy a basin of immature coffee at Shs 10,000, which Tumwizere said is more than what they would get for coffee that is ready for harvest.

In response, UCDA has intensified efforts to curb the vice by threatening to arrest farmers involved in the trade.

“We shall start arresting any farmer that we find harvesting immature coffee because it affects the quality of coffee on the market which not only affects the farmer but also the country’s exports” he said.

Taking action

On Wednesday this week, Tumwizere impounded 26 sacks of immature coffee and arrested two workers accused of engaging in the illicit trade at a coffee store in Kiburara village, Hakibale Sub County, in Kabarole district.

The operation, which was conducted by Tumwizere and an official from the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), followed a tip off from locals that some traders were buying immature coffee within their village. The traders were apprehended and handed over to the police, and their coffee impounded.

In 2017, during an operation OWC officials impounded more than 500kgs of green coffee berries from traders in Mitandi Kyamukube town council, now part of Bunyangabu district and arrested one of the traders.

Richard Waako, the in-charge, defence, in Kiburara village where the culprits were netted, said the two individuals had been arrested twice before over the same practice (dealing in immature coffee), but they have persisted in the illicit trade.

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L. Albert floods submerge Shs 1bn modern fish market in Panyimur

Authorities in Panyimur Sub County, Pakwach district have been left scratching their heads after the only modern fish market and the leading source of revenue in the sub county was recently submerged by flooding water from Lake Albert.

Panyimur market is located in Sigla village West of Lake Albert, near where the White Nile kisses the lake on its way to South Sudan.

Unable to use the now-flooded market, many fish mongers have resorted to selling their fish from their homesteads, a practice that authorities say has affected revenue collection for the sub county.

“Panyimur market contributes over Shs 200m to the sub county’s revenue. Since the facility is greatly affected by the rising water level from Lake Albert, the sub county’s activities will greatly be affected drastically,” said the area LC III Chairman, Shabban Ofoi.

Panyimur’s Shs 1.4 bn modern fish market is the biggest in the entire West Nile region, and was constructed with the support of the Iceland embassy to enable quality assurance for fish handling at Sigla landing site and promote hygiene of fish at the stalls.

Ofoi says the fish market was built in phases starting 2013. It was completed last year and commission early this year. However, he says the market is yet to realize its full potential since it was first affected by the COVID-19-related directives that hampered trade for several months this year, and now by persistent floods that have submerged it.

The LC III Chairman is worried that the mitigation measures being put in place, such as building retaining walls to prevent water from entering the newly constructed fish market, may not be sufficient to resolve the flooding.

He also cited other government projects that have been affected by the floods, such as the Shs 1.3bn modern landing site at Dei as well as water projects worth about Shs 600m, also in Dei.

Human settlements have not been spared by the flooding either.

“Many human settlements and human activities at the landing side and as far as 100 meters from the buffer zones of Lake Albert have been destroyed,” Ofoi said.

Panyimur Market Chairman, Jeol Okorboth Mvor says the floods have killed off their businesses and put their livelihoods at stake.

“Our customers have no access to our business points due to the floods which have blocked the way to our shops.”

Okorboth adds that many businessmen at the landing sites are facing difficulty servicing their loans because their businesses have been affected by the floods.

“Since we don’t have business at the moment, financial institutions must visit the place and assess their clients’ situation to avoid doubts in paying back their loans,” Okorboth said.

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Delayed Masindi Port -Kitgum road works hamper business

Several businesses along the Masindi Port -Rwekunye, Apac-Lira-Kitgum road have been crippled by the deteriorated state, made worse by ongoing torrential rains and the heavy trucks that habitually use it.

Government contracted Turkish Gulsan Insaat Sanayi Turizm Nakliyat Ve Tecaret from Turkey and Sadeem Al General Trading from Kuwait to undertake the road works valued at Shs 750 billion.

The project has been split into two parts, with the Kuwaiti firm contracted to build the 90.9km Rwenkunyu-Apac stretch for Shs 337.5bn, while the Turkish firm will upgrade the 100.1km Apac-Lira-Puranga section for about Shs 416.3bn.

The road works are being undertaken with support from the Islamic Development bank.

A month after President Yoweri Museveni flagged off the tarmacking of Masindi-Pader to Acholibur Highway, motorists are having a hard time using the road given its current state.

When theCooperator toured the road, many passengers were seen struggling to access the road, sections of which had been submerged by water.

Due to the poor state of the road, road users, especially those seeking to access Apac town from Aduku Township, have been forced to use the longer route from Teboke-Chegere up to Kole Town Council to connect to Apac, Kole, Lira and Kampala city.

Simon Amanya, a Mbale-based businessman, says he is counting losses after his truck slipped off the road and fell into a swamp between Aduku and Apac. He also lost 200 sacks of maize worth over Shs 30m in the same accident.

“I have incurred a great loss due to the poor status of this road. My truck fell into water and most of my maize grains got wet. The vehicle got spoiled and as of now I don’t know how I will go to Mbale and how I will recover the losses. Government needs to do something about this road,” he said.

Jimmy Obura, a Tipper driver who operates on the Aduku to Lira road, says he has lost many customers as most now opt for alternative routes Lira city given the road’s poor status

“This road has forced many vehicles off this road due to frequent breakdown of vehicles.”

Lillian Adongo, residents of Alira parish in Aduku Sub County says that due to the bad road they can neither access medical services at Aduku Health Center IV nor transport their farm produce to Lira.

“The Uganda National Road Authority (UNRA) should rehabilitate this road as we await the planned tarmacking.”

However, Mark Ssali, the UNRA Spokesperson says the Authority is unable to rehabilitate the said road since the project has already been awarded to contractors for tarmacking. Ssali said that they can only come in when the situation goes out of hand.

“Yes, we are aware of the status of Masindi Port- Rwekunye, Apac-Lira-Kitgum Road, but according to the contract agreement form, we are not allowed to do repair of roads already awarded to contractors; we can only come in when the situation goes out of hand,” Ssali said.

“We are yet to send our team on the ground to access the magnitude of the situation and see what to do,” he said in a telephone interview.

Eng. Harriet Ogam, the UNRA Station Engineer in charge of Lango was unreachable for comment.

Bazil Okello Onac, the Kwania District LC V Chairman, observed that the poor condition of the said road is not only holding back local economic growth but also hampering regional trade. He asked the government to expedite the process of tarmacking the said road.

While flagging off the project recently, President Museveni noted that the road project once completed would increase connectivity in the region, facilitate trade and help exploit the agricultural opportunities in the area.

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Masaka Cooperative Union sets up credit arm to support members

In December 2019, Masaka Co-operative Union formed a financial cooperative to boost coffee production capacity in the region.

For the last 70 years, Masaka Co-op union has worked with primary societies involved in coffee production in the greater Masaka region that comprises the districts of Lyantonde, Ssembabule, Bukomansimbi, Rakai, Lwengo, Kalungu and Kyotera.

According to Emmanuel Ssenyonga, the General Manager, the union was started in 1951 to combat oppression of indigenous business people involved in the coffee sector by Indians who dominated trade in the lucrative crop.

“The Union was a hedge against the bad practices of buyers. Indians owned the factories at the time, and because Africans knew nothing, our farmers’ coffee was under weighed and they were paid less than their due,” says Ssenyonga.

In the 1980s, Masaka Union started to supply the export market directly and was thus able to provide farmers a better bargain on their coffee and even give them premium pay.

However, Masaka Co-op Union was, like other unions in the country, hard hit by the wars that rocked the country between 1979-85.

Joseph Kavuma, the Union Chairperson says the Masaka Cooperative Union has struggled to recover ever since.

“All union operations were halted. We even retrenched most of our employees and only remained with a skeleton staff of four people because business was no longer running,” Kavuma says.

In addition, the Union was forced to sell most of its enterprises including ranches and coffee factories to clear the outstanding debts.

Worse still, the Union remained without working capital to resume its normal coffee business.

Restoring through a SACCO

It is against this background that the union decided to set up the Masaka Union Co-operative Financial Services Limited (MUCOFI). Launched on December 8, 2019, the financial cooperative will contribute to the Union’s grand goal of reviving and boosting coffee production in the region.

The Union’s Chairperson hopes that, by providing farmers with affordable credit, MUCOFI will deliver them from the clutches of predatory lenders and enable them get a better price for their coffee.

“Our farmers got tired with private buyers because whenever they had a problem, they would sell their coffee during flowering stage. So we set up a financial Centre where farmers could get ‘coffee loans’ a lower interest rate of about 1.5% per month instead of being cheated by private buyers,” Kavuma explained

According to Bukenya Swaleh, MUCOFI’s accountant, the relatively new SACCO already has 456 members, with a turnover of Shs 1.1bn.

“Our capital base is about Shs 1bn and our loan portfolio stands at Shs 654 million,” said Swaleh

The SACCO has total savings of Shs 83m and members’ share capital stands at around Shs 40m.

However General Manager Ssenyonga says the union is slowly getting back to its feet by using the Shs 17.8bn partial compensation the Union received from government to resume coffee buying and export.

“We hope to facilitate more members and build stronger societies. This means more production and increased exports as a result. This is where we are heading to,” says Ssenyonga.

The Union has also embraced value addition and has started producing roasted coffee for local consumption.

“Right now, we have pilot experiments going on. Over the next five years we expect to introduce roasted coffee beans onto the local market so that we can start consuming our own coffee,” he said.

He called upon government to utilize unions and other cooperatives in providing quality inputs to farmers.

“In the early 1990s, the government used to acquire agricultural inputs through Coffee Marketing Boards and send those inputs to the unions in the districts, which would then dispatch them equitably to the farmers,” Ssenyonga recalls.

This system, he believes, gave government a better estimate of the appropriate inputs required by the farmers.

“This is unlike today where farmers’ inputs decisions are taken either by the NAADS Secretariat or Operation Wealth Creation officials (OWC), which results in wrong input and season timings, and poor quality deliveries.”

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MUK don urges government to quickly resolve MUBS staff salary disparity

Dr. Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi, the Chairperson of the Forum for Academic Staff in Public Universities (FASPU) called on government to resolve the outstanding issue of salary disparity for academic staff at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and align it with the salary scale for existing Public Universities.

In an interview with theCooperator, the FASPU leader revealed that the issue at MUBS is that different categories of staff earn different salaries based on different appointment terms, a practice he says does not cohere with the rules governing staff remuneration in public universities.

“We stand with MUBS staff and the Government must urgently address this matter, beyond which we shall not hesitate as public universities to lay down tools in solidarity with MUBS,” Kamunyu said.

On November 15, 2020, Makerere University Business School Academic Staff Association (MUBASA) committed to an indefinite industrial action by the teaching staff, citing inconsistency in their current salaries with the Government wage bill structure for other public universities.

“The issue is underpayment. As academic staff we expected our salaries to match what the Government gives to staff in other Universities,” said Brian Muyomba, the Chairperson, MUBASA.

He vowed that MUBS’s academic staff will not relent until their expectations are met by the Government.

Varied wage categories

Currently, six wage categories exist for different staff on the MUBS payroll.

620 out of 1,187 staff members were appointed by the MUBS University Council and are under the ministry of Public service salary structure, with a 38.7 bn wage bill per year.

Moreover, 80 staff members under the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPS) are still earning salary at their previous rank, despite having been promoted. The annual wage bill for this category is 6.5 bn.

The third category includes staff appointed by the Universities Council on permanent terms. 97 in number, they are paid by the University (not Government) with a wage bill of over 3.5 bn annually.

Staff who are paid by MUBS on appointment by the University Council on local contract terms are 46, while those appointed by the University Management under a similar arrangement number 299, with a wage bill of 1.3 bn and 7.7 bn per annum respectively.

The last category consists of 45 Administrative Assistants appointed by MUBS, with a wage bill of over Shs 864m per year.

In a letter dated September 1, 2020, Minister Muruli Mukasa recommended that the Government takes over the wage bill for 843 MUBS staff to match the pay scale for public Universities. He proposed that the government covers a wage deficit of over 4.92 bn that would enable the University meet its wage bill of 58.711 bn required for 2020/21.

“Considering that wage for only 843 staff has been observed to result in extremely low staffing levels of below 30%, the ministry therefore advises the management of MUBS to capture its staffing needs and submit in the recruitment plans for FY 2020/21. Once funds are provided, then these positions should be filled completely,” Muruli said.

Meanwhile, said the MUBS administration partly bears the blame for the current stalemate at the university.

“If there had been progress, maybe lecturers wouldn’t have threatened. This is an injustice that a normal management would appreciate and have it sorted. Much as the Government has resolved to have this ironed out, there are delays on the side of MUBS management,” Kamunyu said.

“We ask MUBS to cooperate with the Government such that this problem can be dealt with before we are all drawn into this course of action,” he added.

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Farmers in Acoli lose acres of crops to floods

Heavy rains in Acoli sub region have left acres of crop gardens submerged.

The heavy rains which poured for a better part of August are continuing, causing massive destruction to crops such as beans, simsim and soya beans among others.

Some farmers say that they have had to clear out some of their crops such as simsim prematurely, and replace them with flood-tolerant crops such as rice, albeit at a loss.

In Paicho Sub-County in Gulu district, officials estimate that at least 500 acres of crop gardens were recently washed away by floods.

Simon Opiro, the Chairperson, PaichoKal Growers Cooperative Society Limited, said the heavy rains have affected every farmer in the sub county, 93.1 percent of whose population is reliant on agriculture.

Opiro says 143 out of the 219 members of the cooperative planted at least an acre of beans, and all of them report that their crop has been destroyed by the floods.

“Much of the first season beans rotted in the garden because of too much rain; now the ones we planted this season are yellowing because of excess rain,” Opiro said.

He adds that simsim was the worst affected crop, often being swept away by floods, and a number of farmers, including himself, are replacing it with other flood-resistant crops.

“I spent Shs 900,000 to plant three acres of simsim which was all washed by the floods. I have already cleared the garden to plant millet,” Opiro said.

Peter Okot, LC III of Paicho Sub County revealed that the entire parishes of Pagik and Omel are flooded, and parts of Te-Olam, Kalumu are also affected.

“I am worried that if the heavy rain continues the farmers are going to suffer both food and financial insecurity because almost 100 percent of the population depends on agriculture,” Okot said.

Okot who supplements his sub-county work with money from farming, says each year he plants between 2-3 acres of simsim, and earns at least Shs 2 million, but has lost hope of getting that lifeline this season.

Jackson Okwera, a farmer in Lalogi Sub County, in Omoro district, also says he injected at least Shs 800,000 into planting two acres of simsim in August but it was destroyed by floods, and he has cleared the garden to plant millet.

Okwera, who is also a bodaboda rider, says floods have also greatly affected farms in Kitgum, Lamwo and Agago. For farmers in Agago and Pader, the heavy rains come as double trouble, as they had already lost hundreds of acres of crops to floods and hailstorm in June and July, respectively.

Reports from the Uganda National Meteorological Authority, UNMA, indicate that the current above average rains in the sub-region are expected to continue until mid-October, while the rainy season is expected to end around late November or early December.
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Disaster minister worried by persistent heavy rains

The Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Eng. Hillary Onek, has voiced fears over heavy rains, ongoing for several months now, that continue to devastate livelihoods, disrupt movement of people and goods and negatively impact on agricultural productivity in the country.

Onek, described the current situation as “appalling” for communities within the Elgon and Rwenzori area, as well as those living along river banks and lake shores, many of whose members he says have been displaced by landslides, floods and diseases caused by the relentless rains.

“The impact of the current torrential rain has caused a lot of havoc in the country since April 2020. Due to heavy rains, water levels have increased in all rivers and lakes leading to floods and displacement of communities,” Onek said.

The Minister revealed that in Mbale, which has been hard hit by the rains, over 567 people from 81 families in Busaano sub-county were displaced by land and mud slides that killed 45 year old Michael Mukhaili after his house was submerged, with properties and homesteads destroyed in the locality.

In total, he estimated that about 30,000 people have been displaced by overflowing lakes and rivers, while government estimates over 1 million people to have been affected directly or indirectly by the rains.

“Mothers and children were affected most, with huge needs ranging from lack of warm clothes, food and all basic needs for them to cope with the bad weather amidst displacement. Most plantations were washed away and there’s general fear among residents due to the heavy rains,” he added.

Onek advised members of communities in high risk areas to relocate and ‘stay with relatives and friends’ until the rains subside.

Minister Hillary Onek addressing Media about disasters caused by the current heavy rains in the Country. Photo Credit – John Okeya

A weather forecast by the Uganda National Metrological Authority warns that the current rains are expected to continue through December, with the downpours predicted peak in September and slowly recede towards the end of the year.

Farmers count losses

Andrew Mugambwa, the Cooperative Officer for Bundibugyo-based Semuliki Cooperative Union, which mainly deals in Cocoa production, says that Kasese and Bundibugyo have been hit significantly by the impacts of heavy rains, mudslides and water logging.

“The Cocoa value chain has been impacted negatively by heavy rains which destroyed people’s houses, affected their storage and will impact on the quality of Cocoa,” Mugambwa said, adding:

“People were displaced from their farms and can no longer harvest the Cocoa pods that were ready. This has consequently given a platform for thieves to invade these abandoned gardens.”

Mugambwa further reported that large plantations in Bundibugyo and Kasese have been washed away by the heavy rains and floods, with over 3% of land in Bundibugyo district estimated to be affected.

“Both Mobuku and Hema maize plantations were washed clean, while coffee and banana plantations near Kilembe mines were also destroyed,” he said.

He argues that government’s response has been slow and ineffective.

“There is need to prioritise planting of shade trees and to conduct research on ways to protect the soils against extreme erosion.”

Meanwhile, Minister Onek says that so far government has spent over Shs 40 bn, a large part of it on providing emergency aid to the affected communities. He revealed that his ministry needs Shs 66 bn more to help communities adversely affected by natural disasters.

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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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