During my Senior 4 vacation in 1991, as my fellow vacists were following Operation Desert Storm on CNN marveling at the remote controlled missiles that were roaming the streets of Baghdad, I was holed up in rural Butaleja (then part of Tororo district). My mother had given me a quarter acre to try my luck at rice growing. As a hardworking young man, by the end of my vacation, I had harvested rice to raise that earned me more than enough money for my first term school fees in Senior 5. That piece of land was and still is in the Doho Rice Scheme, Uganda’s largest irrigation scheme.
Dear President Museveni,
You definitely do not know me but I have know you for over thirty years, ever since I first heard about you in the mythical tales that were shared during your bush days. We used to be told that you could turn into a pussycat and escape arrest by the then Government soldiers of UNLA. However, when you came to power, I was taken up by your passion towards developing the masses of this country. Your resolve to fight injustice was never in doubt and this endeared many of us to you.
About me, I am a Ugandan citizen who hails from Nambale Parish, Naweyo Sub-County in Butaleja District.
Close to two weeks ago, I was alarmed by the news that appeared on NTV as well as in the Monitor Newspaper about a fracas between the rice farmers of the Doho Rice Scheme and the District Chairman LCV, a one Mr. Waya Richard. He narrowly survived lynching for trying to impose upon the farmers Cooperative a mysterious, yet to be known investor to take over management of the rice Scheme which is being ably managed by the Doho Irrigation Scheme Farmers’ Cooperative Society (DIFACOS). Despite the fracas, Mr. Waya went ahead to boastfully state that the investor was sent by State House and in lay man’s terms, this directly means President Museveni. This is the reason I am writing this letter to you.
About Doho Rice Scheme
The scheme is a 2500 Hectares irrigation scheme that sustains not less than 10,000 farmers that actively grow rice in it. A further 30,000 labourers are engaged in offering services to the farmers like ground clearing, laying nursery beds, weeding, transplanting, harvesting, scare crow services among others. The environs of this scheme have not less than thirty rice mills including ultra modern ones at Nabiganda and Nampologoma that not only mill but also thresh, destone and grade the rice ready for packaging. The 40,000 farmers and labourers have households averaging 6 people thereby implying that at least 240,000 direct beneficiaries do exist.
If you extend the impact further to the shop keepers, rice traders, transporters, agro-input dealers, etc, you realise that this rice scheme has created a well lubricated market led rice industry that extends beyond the confines of Butaleja with an impact on markets as far as Kampala.
The income earned from this scheme has helped create a lot of stability in the village communities with many being able to bring food to the table, educate children, set up other business ventures among other things. This could probably be the main reason why our district hardly clamors for a Ministerial position. People have some source of income that keeps them busy.
Butaleja district is one of the few Ugandan districts where you can comfortably find over 5000 farmers who earn at least UGX 2 Million per annum from their farming activities. Therefore, in terms of achieving Middle income status, this district is one of those that can get you that critical mass needed much sooner than letter. The rice scheme has therefore greatly facilitated the economic inclusiveness of most households in the district.
The farmers’ cooperative, DIFACOS of which I am member number 0336, has registered much progress ever since being handed the reigns of managing the scheme after it’s renovation using a badly managed 22 Billion World Bank grant (this is a story for another day).
Some of the achievements which stand out are:
- Capacity building of the leadership and administrative staff of the SACCO both locally and internationally.
- Capacity building of the farmers through avenues like trainings and study tours both locally and internationally.
- Fully functional cooperative society processing plant that adds value through rice grading and packaging for onward re-sale in supermarkets.
- Management of a savings scheme for farmers that enables them get access to loans thereby greatly improving on the financial security of the farmers.
- Availing farming inputs on time to the farmers to ensure uninterrupted farming hence allowing the farmers to have less stress as well as avoid resorting to loan sharks who charge upto 100% interest over a 3 months’ period.
The gains I have shared and much more are about to be washed away by a plan fronted by the LCV Chairman of Butaleja District in which he has vowed to steamroll over every stakeholder to bring on board an investor to take over the Doho Rice Scheme. It gets even more interesting when this investor is a safely guarded secret only known to him for now.
The District Chairman has reportedly stated that the investor will;
- Buy farmers’ rice at a price no less than UGX 5000/= per Kilogram hence increasing their incomes significantly. I see this as a naked lie considering that the price offering is even much higher than the market cost of the product.
- Bring new rice farming methods like planting in lines and mechanisation. This is not news to the rice scheme. Already farmers have been empowered with knowledge on System for Rice Intensification approaches towards rice farming through the various trainings as well as study tours. All this is known to them and one does not have to take over the scheme to teach this.
- Add value to the rice so that more revenue can be got. DIFACOS as mentioned earlier is actively packaging rice. There are also private packaging companies in the district. They didnt need to take over the running of the rice scheme to be able to add value.
- Buy out the rice farmers from the scheme and grow the rice directly. What will the fate of the over 10,000 farmers and their support staff be? The loss of income is likely to create a lot of socio-economic turbulence in the district and beyond all because of one investor.
- Mandate the rice growers in the area to sell their husked rice to the investor strictly. This will definitely lead to much lower incomes for these farmers hence contradicting the earlier promise of increased revenues. Not only is husked rice sold at a much cheaper rate but the creation of a monopoly buyer in what is supposed to be a free market economy will lead farmers to dance to the tunes of the investor.
DIFACOS’ position is that no investment is required in the area of processing rice as-is. The cooperative wants investors who can;
- Add value to the waste like using the rice husks to make charcoal briquettes or ceiling boards
- Add value to rice by making upscale niche products like Spaghetti, alcohol, glue among others.
Your excellency, we have a good reason to believe that the mysterious investor is either non-existent or is a group of sleek background operating Mafis using the district leadership and the good name of your office (State House) to acquire public property for peanuts while disregarding the eventual economic imbalance such a move is likely to have on the local Butaleja residents.
As I conclude, I want to let you know that your Resident District Commissioner, a one Gulume Balyainho seems to be in bed with the plans of the District Chairman that are totally against the will of the masses. He has already been conscripted to be part of the negotiations committee that has been hurriedly set up to negotiate with the mysterious Investor. Is he really representing your interests? Has he briefed you about this saga?
The battle lines have been drawn, locals are already agitated with many vowing not to see their only source of livelihood slip through their hands.
It is in line with these issues that I seek an appointment with you to brief you with much more clarity following an on-ground assessment I did last week on this unfolding saga. It is definitely pitting the masses against the land grabbing, moneyed and influential elite who always stop at nothing to illicitly acquire whatever resources there are.
While using channels like our area Members of Parliament is an option, the speed at which the District LCV Chairman is pushing this initiative leaves us no choice but to run to the highest office of the land for refuge. After-all, he claims the investor was sent by StateHouse.
I respectfully await your call, your Excellency.
On behalf of the Save Doho Rice Scheme Pressure Group
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