Sunday June 15 2014

We need cooperatives, not soldiers to boost agriculture

By Nandala Mafabi

Whatever lenses you may want to view it, there is certainly something wrong. In his Heroes’ Day speech, the President announced that Naads officials would be replaced with soldiers. Though not outright, the President hinted on the same in his speech after the budget reading.

To this, some people think that it is the wheel coming full circle - Mr Museveni coming out of the civilian charade to a full military soldier that he has always been with intent to turn Uganda into a fully militarised state; an experiment that started with the police, then rolled to Ministry of Internal Affairs and now agriculture.

The other view is that, this is another of those usual experiments being tried out on Ugandans by Mr Museveni’s regime. The experiments range from Kulembeka, Entandikwa, Bonna bagagawale, Village Saccos, Naads, and now soldiers into agriculture.

Without much ado in technicalities, it was obvious that Naads would never be an effective tool to drive the agricultural sector. In the first place, how could an advisory body turn itself to distribute farm inputs? Secondly, at one time, through this very Naads, government experimented with six farmers per parish.

This ‘six farmers per parish’ design as we know, follows the old, long abandoned top, trickle -down model where you empower one person in a community or give opportunities to the head of the family, hoping that those given the opportunity have the altruism to help others. The model was found wanting as those who were accorded opportunities did not pass on the proceeds.

Surprising though is why government continues on its wild goose chase as if there aren’t tested means of boosting agriculture. This simply needs more budget allocations and organisation of farmers - key issues that government has continuously paid lip service to.

In his State-of-the-Nations Address, the President dwelt on the importance of agriculture in the country, rightly indicating that it employs more than 70 per cent of the population and that coffee was set to get people out of poverty following the increase in world prices. Having rightly diagnosed the problem, he then made a wrong prescription of soldiers taking over Naads!

I would have expected the President to announce that having realised the importance of this sector, there is a 10 per cent budget allocation in this year’s budget. But making oral praises of the sector while government allocates a paltry 3.3 per cent of the budget to it not only portrays lack of seriousness but also deliberate determination to keep majority Ugandans in demeaning poverty!

Also, using soldiers is equally irrelevant and unnecessary. In a recent study done by Centre for Basic Research (CBR) in conjunction with Action Aid- Uganda, (AI-U) the researchers who went out seeking to know how cooperatives could be re-introduced where shocked to be told that cooperatives have never died and that actually they can never die! Following the liberalisation onslaught, there has been a seeming vacuum but the truth is that cooperatives and their members still exist. This means that we already have institutions that only need revitalisation to organise, educate, provide inputs and seek market for farmers’ produce.

When I took over BCU in 2008, it was dysfunctional and indebted, but within two years, the institution had been revitalised. We paid off the debts and helped farmers to educate their children. With government interference since 2010, the institution went back into indebtedness but we are certain that given the farmers mandate we will again sail through the muddy waters. Currently, we are undertaking reforms. We want to set up semi- autonomous women and youth structures right from the primary societies. These structures will be represented on the BCU board.

Another reform is to widen the scope of the cooperative, so that in addition to handling agricultural inputs and marketing, the profits of the institution can be ploughed into education, health and old age benefits. If someone has spent all his life supplying coffee to BCU, there is no reason to abandon him/her in old age because he/she does not have capacity to produce any more coffee. Simple retirement benefits will be woven as an incentive for people to continue supplying their coffee to the union.

In the mid term, we envisage that if every household produced 500kg of coffee annually, at the minimum of Shs10,000, per kilogramme, every farmer will be assured of Shs5m per year. These are simple estimates as we work towards increasing their coffee output per acreage. Shs5m is not a lot of money compared to the much anticipated government Shs20m per house hold but it is real and not a mere wish that comes to pass.

That is why, while in Washington recently, I told members of Bugisu community in the Diaspora that I did not want money but market for coffee. I also shared that the only way of helping farmers out of their current deplorable condition is to buy their coffee because for every kilo of coffee bought; it is a contribution towards a farmer’s income; every kilo of coffee bought is a contribution towards the education of the farmer’s child; every kilo of coffee bought is a contribution towards health and old age insurance for the farmer.
For God and My Country!

Nathan Nandala Mafabi, Chairperson Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU), MP Budadiri West