Tag Archives: James Wire

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

Who is Letting down Uganda?

One does not need to dig too deep before getting a very good sense of why this country is engaged in a development rat race. Let us look at just three things that can show you why.

In the early 80s we used to travel to distant locations from Kampala using the Train and public buses. One train ride from Kampala to Mbale would transport not less than 500 people and when Kayoola was introduced, the number must have increased to about 700 per ride.

Then came in the 1986 revolution that promised us heaven on earth. Before we knew it, the train services were dysfunctional apparently to pave way for private self seekers to set up bus services to transport people. To be honest, if the technocrats were foresighted, all we needed then was to improve on the rail system and we would be enjoying a much better public transport system today. The now elusive Standard Gauge Railway could probably have made it’s entry as far back as the year 2000. Why should one spend five hours (two hours between Kampala and Mukono) moving from Kampala to Mbale yet with a good rail system, that would be a mere 50 minutes?

The fuel crisis would be having a much less pinch on the layman because efficient public transport would be the way to go for most of us now.

We had numerous public schools at both primary and secondary level that were responsible for churning out good performing individuals. Schools like North Road Primary School in Mbale, Buganda Road / Nakasero / Kitante / Bat Valley Primary Schools in Kampala, Teso College, St. Joseph’s College Ombaci in West Nile, Tororo College, Kigezi College Butobere, Dr Obote College Boroboro, Bukedi College KachoŇča, Jinja College, Busoga College Mwiri among very many others. These schools were left to rot and one would not be wrong to believe that the move might have been intentional either at the technocrat or the political level or both. Had they continued receiving just the basic attention they used to get prior to 1986, they would be amazing today.

It is strongly believed that the selfish interests of some technocrats and/or politicians led this drive and today they run some of the most popular and expensive chains of private schools that seem to have the magic wand when it comes to making students pass with high grades.

When I heard the President complain about the high charges by schools, I was not very surprised because I think he seems to have lost touch with what is on the ground many years back. He talked like this problem started recently.

Your Excellency, you watched over successive teams of Government technocrats who systematically led us here either with your full or partial comprehension. What you cannot dodge is being part of the problem. You have always supported people who abuse resources for as long as they invest locally. These are some of the results. People who invest and want to get their returns within 5 years hence charging an arm and a leg as you look elsewhere.

One of the reasons I like President Kagame is that despite his shortcomings, he is a man that is decisive when it comes to getting things done. He reached Rwanda and realised that private schools were invogue, something which was skewing access to education. He went ahead to implement a few measures aimed at making Public Schools better. Today, Rwanda’s private schools are closing steadily while public schools are much more serious. Did he need Billions of dollars like they tend to insinuate here in Uganda? I doubt. It’s all about smart planning and ruthless execution.

Let us move to the food sector. Uganda is a country whose soils (all of them including Karamoja and Nakasongola) are good for the existence of different types of crops. When I see how the milk industry turned around from 1993 when the government took a conscious effort to address the milk value chain hence making us one of if not the biggest milk producer south of the Sahara 30 years later and attracting million dollar investments in processing facilities, I ask the powers that be;

Can’t you replicate the milk story in other food sectors like Rice, Coffee, Simsim, Sunflower, Maize, Fruits among others?

Is it intentional that these other products are ignored?

By simply addressing the value chain demands of some of the listed crops, the argument of Uganda being in Middle Income Status would be history.

I have always had this feeling that most people running economies in developing countries like Uganda are of suspect ability. They Present themselves with all these degrees and academic accomplishments usually gotten from countries that we have been led to admire like the USA, UK among others.

When you try to actually establish what they do for our countries, it is not rocket science. They are largely reactive and not proactive. They always wait for things to get sour then come up with all sorts of text book explanations on inflation, GDP, productivity, mindset change and many other silly terms aimed at confusing the minds of the lay man.

I challenge those of you in the various offices claiming to plan for this country to stop what the president calls Kukolera Kida (working for the stomach) and create a difference by planning for future generations beyond your immediate family.

What is wrong, Uganda? Is it the Politicians? Technocrats? Or Both?

James Wire
Business & Technology Consultant
Twitter: @wirejames