GULU –Deeply frustrated by the high cost of opening and ploughing virgin land, farmers in Acholi sub-region have steered clear of large scale farming.
Beatrice Kipwola, a member of Paicho Central Kal Cooperative Society in Paicho Sub County, Gulu district, told theCooperator that she has restricted herself to cultivating no more than five acres of land.
“Each season I plant only five acres of both soya beans and beans. This year, I had planned to add another five acres, but this means I have to inject Shs 900,000 in just opening and ploughing the virgin land, minus other inputs, planting and weeding expenses. This is a risk I don’t want to take, considering that high yields are not a guarantee,” Kipwola said.
A tractor costs between Shs 80,000 to Shs 90,000 to dig up an acre of unused land. An ox-plough costs Shs 40,000.
Since more than 90 percent of people in Acholi sub region are engaged in either subsistence or commercial agriculture –free hands for hire to open new land are hard to come-by because everyone is busy.
Each person or family does their own land opening.
Kipwola, who gets a net profit of about Shs 300,000 to Shs 400,000 every season, said she is afraid of expanding her gardens because hiring individuals to open land costs Shs 120,000 per acre. She said the high cost diminishes her profit margins.
Kipwola hires an ox-plough to open land.
Joska Lacaa, another member of Paicho Central Kal Cooperative Society, said she cannot cultivate beyond three acres.
Lacaa said she has restricted herself to growing only an acre of ground nuts and an acre of maize to avoid the prohibitive cost of opening new land.
She said uprooting a single tree stump from virgin land costs between Shs 10,000 to Shs 20,000.
“If there are 20 tree stumps on an acre, it means I have to part with a minimum of Shs 200,000 before employing the use of a tractor, twice. So, where will my profit come from?” Lacaa said.
Simon Opiro, the chairperson of Paicho Central Kal Cooperative Society, said land opening is a daunting task for the more active 47 female members of the cooperative. The cooperative has 219 members, but only 81 are active. Unlike men who can do some of the tasks, women have to hire most of the services, he said.
Opiro said that besides the prohibitive cost of hiring tractors for land opening, the whole sub county has only three tractors, which are always occupied. He said it takes about a month or more to get a tractor on-the-ground after booking.
Santa Joyce Laker, the chairperson of Atiak Sugar Plantation Out growers’ Cooperative Society Limited, said land opening is the biggest challenge to the cooperative.
“Operation Wealth Creation gives only seeds; how do you give seeds to someone who is unable to clear a large farm for commercial agriculture?” Laker said.
“We need support from government. It has only supported us to open land for sugarcane, not other crops, yet commercializing agriculture needs a lot of inputs,” Laker said.
A 2016 study of Land, Food, Security and Agriculture in Uganda by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Makerere University Business School found that cooperatives in Uganda now, unlike in the heyday of the cooperative movement, are not getting enough government support in terms of inputs.
The study suggests that agriculture credit be extended to cooperatives in form of tractor hire services and supply of inputs such as pesticides and other equipment, such that recovery is done at the time of sale of produce.
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