For many decades, households in Teso sub-region largely depended on livestock rearing as the main means of livelihood. This is no more.
Unlike the nomads and pastoralists in other parts of the country, communities in Teso and other indigenous groups around the Kyoga Basin practiced settled cattle keeping.
When insurgencies and subsequent insecurity set in between 1987 and 1990, several households lost their livestock to Karimojong cattle rustlers, rebels and suspected government soldiers, leaving locals with nothing but subsistence farming to depend on.
“Even before Uganda got its independence (in 1962), it is a known fact that the people of Teso always depended on cattle to settle most of their problems. They married, settled disputes, paid debts, sent their children to better schools by selling their cattle,” says Serere County MP Stephen Ochola.
For the lazy
He said crop production, now the main source of food and household earnings, was perceived to be practiced and solely depended upon by lazy members of the community.
To boost the beef production potential in the region, a meat processing plant was established in the early post-independence days that for long had been the pride of Teso.
The plant was established during the Obote I regime, and ranked second largest in Africa then with an installed capacity of 2,000 animals per day.
The regime had also set up ranches around the Lake Kyoga basin to ensure constant and reliable supply of animals to the plant.
“Government then knew Teso had a great potential for beef production in the region and that is why the factory was established. We have waited for the last two decades to see the facility back to its use, but in vain,” says Ochola.
At the height of insecurity in the region, vital parts of the factory were stolen by unknown people while other structures of the facility were completely vandalised, rendering the plant dysfunctional to date.
With an estimated three million cattle 30 years ago in the region, the numbers have continued to decline with the current animal population said to be about 400,000.
Several restocking attempts initiated two decades ago by government have yielded no fruits as local farmers continue to grapple with numerous livestock diseases.
More than 150,000 cattle have been given out to various households across the region under government initiatives like the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads), Northern Uganda Social Action Fund and the National Agricultural Livestock Improvement Programme with the objective of revamping cattle keeping and beef production in the region, but not much has been achieved from these interventions.
“Government always comes up with these programmes haphazardly, with no clear guiding policies and that is why there is not much benefit from the interventions,” says Kumi County MP Patrick Amuriat.
While campaigning during the last general elections, President Museveni pledged a special restocking programme for Teso under which each household would receive a cow and as a result, Shs5 billion was stashed out in the last financial year to fund the project.
The funds were eventually channelled through the Teso Affairs ministry which at the beginning this year embarked on the purchase and supply of the animals to the beneficiaries.
Barely four months into the restocking exercise, an outbreak of the foot-and-mouth-disease, a serious livestock infection mostly common in cattle, hit the region with most of the newly-distributed cattle found to be having the disease.
Appeal to locals
“Although the likely cross-infection of the disease from cattle to pigs has been found to be low, some parts of the region are a high disease pressure zone for the outbreak. But it is advisable that people stick to the quarantine regulations to check further damage,” says Martin Okello, a Naads official in Kumi District.
A ban on the sale, movement or slaughter of cattle, sheep and goats -- considered to be more susceptible to high cross-infection of the foot-and-mouth-disease -- has since been imposed, but with no much compliance from the public.
The main cattle markets in Bukedea, Kumi, Ngora, Serere, Soroti and Katakwi districts have been closed down following the ban and this has affected the supply of meat in neighbouring districts that traditionally depend on livestock supply from Teso.
In some areas, the quarantine has not been heeded to and it is reported that the slaughtering of animals and sale of meat is still going on undercover, in most cases in people’s backyards.
“It is a little frustrating that not many people appreciate why the quarantine has been imposed. It is for the good of the animals and the community but some individuals have continued to sell meat illegally,” says Francis Obenyu, a veterinary assistant in Ngora.
James Odeke, a resident of Obabario village in Ngora District, says he has continued to buy beef and pork for his family despite the ban because it is the most available and fairly affordable alternative sauce.
“Fish is no more as there has also been a ban on catching fish on the lakes. Meat is the cheapest because you can even get it in grams,” Odeke says.
Since 2008, Teso has experienced three outbreaks of the Foot and Mouth Disease and in each of the incidences the quarantines imposed have lasted about six months.