Category Archives: General

Time for Smallholder Farmer Empowerment

For ages, the smallholder farmer has been regarded as a small earner. The urban dwellers have always been contented partaking of cheap food supplies while reserving their serious money for ostentatious activities like drinking alcohol, consuming imported supplies and gyrating in discotheques.

Food was taken for granted and the plight of the peasant farmers was only given lip service. Many theorised on how they could be able to earn more and most proposals ended on paper.

The past three years have heralded a new dawn for the smallholder farmers in Uganda. Food prices have increased steadily and caused an outcry among the consumers. This has resulted into a high food inflation.

Food Inflation is in simple terms defined as an increase in the price of food.
Early this year (2022), you could buy A Kilogram of Posho at UGX 1500/=, eight months down the road, that same Kilogram costs UGX 3500/=.
You could buy a Kilogram of Beans at UGX 2000/=, eight months down the road, that same Kilogram costs UGX 4500/=.
Rice on average cost UGX 2,500/= a Kilogram then and today one can hardly get that Kilogram at less than UGX 4,000/=.
All this points to food inflation. The graph below shows the trends of food inflation in Uganda over the past four years and it is clear that the past two years have depicted a very sharp rise.

The consumer is definitely experiencing alot of pain in the process however, what is happening to the farmer? For once the farmer has an opportunity to enjoy decent returns from their food crops. The farm gate price of a number of food crops is equivalent to the urban retail price of the same produce a year ago. This implies that there is more money to be earned by the farmers hence having a positive impact on their livelihoods.
I have grown rice for over three decades but two months back, I registered the highest farm gate price for my produce when a Kilogram was bought at UGX 3600, a price point I used to reach after transporting it over 250Km to the capital city Kampala. What amused me most was the broken rice which also was bought at UGX 2,700, a price much higher than the one of the previous season when rice was averaging UGX 1,400 a Kilo.

The saying, One man’s meat is another man’s poison comes into play here. The poison to the consumers are the high prices while the meat to the farmers is the increasing prices. Could this be signalling a new era that is going to lead to a higher income class of smallholder farmers?

I respond in the affirmative. I cannot deny my happiness seeing the food inflation in place. Year in, year out, I see what the farmers go through and being one too, I have always prayed for the times to change so they start getting adequate reward for their toil. The writing is on the wall, with the ever increasing rural – urban migration, the need to supply food is growing. The opening up of global markets and improving value addition of our food crops is also positioning this country to be a key regional and global supplier of foods. This therefore indirectly extends the demand for the farmers’ produce beyond the national boundaries to markets that can pay even more.

Then the argument comes in, who actually makes the killing when prices rise? Is it the farmers or the middlemen? For every increment in consumer price, a conservative estimate indicates that not more than 30% goes directly to the producer. The rest is swallowed up by the supply chain.

I believe, at this point in time, effort should be put in ensuring the following among smallholder farmers;

  • The formation of farmer groups (product specific if possible)
  • Training on producing with the consumer in mind
  • Financial literacy
  • Facilitation of market access
  • Value addition

By tackling all or some of these, the incomes of these farmers are likely to extend beyond the current growth. I do foresee the farmer progressively earning more and have improved livelihoods as we head into the future and this is the time for anyone that has ever had interest in farming to join and partake of what is coming.

Farming is finally going to make alot of sense. What are you waiting for?

James Wire
Agribusiness & Technology Consultant
Twitter: @wirejames

These rough times point to a new beginning

There is alot being said about the dwindling fortunes of the general public’s livelihoods. Many think it is a failure of the Government in Uganda but I beg to differ. The phenomena is global and seems unavoidable. Sri Lanka is officially broke, In Kenya they are protesting over food, in Libya they even burnt the parliament, I could go on and on.

One thing that is apparently clear to me is that there is something going on in the world that is changing the way we have been accustomed to doing things.

First was the COVID-19 avalanche that among others got us to explore alternative ways of working and doing business. Remote centred work was appreciated by individuals, agencies and governments that had stubbornly refused to believe in that approach.Even private businesses realised that they did not need to have all employees squeezing themselves through the office corridors on a daily.
It opened us up to the numerous alternative medication recipes that abound in our local and organic environment. We got to know the power of Ginger, Lemon, Garlic, Onions, eucalyptus leaves among many other things out there to the disgust of the medical fraternity.

We were hardly out of the COVID scare when Russia attacked Ukraine in an anticipated third word war after the Americans huffed and puffed only to contract like rain beaten chicken when Russia strolled into Ukraine leaving the Americans stuck on CNN and BBC propaganda.

However, currently there is a squeeze being felt in all countries worldwide affecting livelihoods. Fuel is expensive, various foods are either scarce, expensive or not available at all. This has made us cry until some ingenious people started thinking of alternatives.

In Uganda, we have for long chosen to patronise foreign food supplies without appreciating the fact that we have local alternatives. I am glad we are going through this depression. Imagine cassava which used to be a dirt cheap product, same with posho and others are now commanding premium prices, a good thing for our farmers. I have never sold rice at the farm gate for over 2,700/= per kilo in my life since I started growing rice in 1990 but this last season, I sold it at 3,400/= a kilo. Posho is hitting the 4000/= mark on the shelf among others.

Wheat is rare to come by, however, why we had never thought of using cassava still baffles me. There are lots of local products that we are capable of utilising without relying on imports. We just need to open up our eyes wider. Places like Dubai export to us furniture they have made when we who have trees cannot seem to make the same furniture.

We the citizens have been gravitating in a direction that is resource wasteful. You have a family of five with two cars that drive out each day. One to ferry the kids to school and back while the other ferries daddy. Is that fuel worthy spending daily?
Many of those living in urban areas have villages of origin with unutilised land and they buy maize, beans, groundnuts etc daily, preferring to part with their money in an inefficient manner as opposed to growing some of these foods. These are the very ones crying out due to the lack of affordable food.

With our neighboring countries lacking food to eat, it is such a great opportunity for our country to step up the production of various foods for export. We have a natural advantage in farming to the extent that despite our rag tag semi commercial small scale farming we have significant production going on.

There are other opportunities presenting themselves in other sectors of the economy. Instead of shouting ourselves hoarse over the misery we are facing, let us re-invent ourselves and slide into the new world that is slowly shedding of the skin of the old world. |Truth be told, things will never be the same again. We either adapt or be relegated to history. Do not expect the government to do much to save the situation. The technocrats and politicians are equally clueless on what to do and how to do it. Their non ending words are merely as fluffy as cotton wool. Think and establish how best you can make something meaningful out of our situation.

Cow Boy Never die.

James Wire
Business and Technology Consultant
Twitter – @wirejames