Coronavirus disrupts food security

Tuesday April 7 2020

A farmer harvests tomatoes.Some farmers have

A farmer harvests tomatoes.Some farmers have cut back on agrociltural production following President Museveni’s directive to ban public transport in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA 

By Justus Lyatuu

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak that started in Wuhan in China before quickly spreading to the rest of the world is likely to disrupt planting seasons, resulting into food insecurity in several countries, Uganda inclusive.

At least 203 countries and territories around the world are grappling with the Covid-19.

As a result, particularly to suppress infection rate, Uganda’s lockdown, raises concerns and risk of looming hunger and suppressed incomes considering that few people will be involved in food production.

While food prices have remained relatively stable across the country, farmers fear the country could slide into starvation, leaving farmers with limited disposable income.

For instance, Taddewo Senyonyi, a farmer in Kakumiro district who grows coffee, banana and beans says this is the time to buy seed and other inputs but it is very difficult to access the seed shops since most are closed.

Mr Senyonyi says farmers are also facing transport challenges; with input stockists closing shop, he says some farmers are holding onto their money for the uncertainties rather than buying seeds and other agricultural inputs.

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“I live 10Km from the seed shops. In the villages, people have decide to close shops sometimes because they lack transport or stock. So far, the biggest challenge is access to farm inputs,” he said.

He added; “It is time to give farmers farm inputs like seeds if we are to remain safe in the future.”

Mr Senyonyi also said although government allowed free movement of cargo trucks, most farmers cannot afford to hire a whole truck because it is expensive and the quantities they stock are small.

“I bought some suckers and coffee seedlings from Bukalasa but I can’t take them to Kakumiro. Since I’m used to paying a small fee to buses, how will I afford a truck?” he said.

While one would argue that farming can be done in the 12 hours of the day, some farmers say the lockdown and ban of public transport have demoralised the communities.

Mr Hakim Baliraine, a farmer in Mayuge District, said restrictions on the movement of people will have a long-lasting impact on both the communities and farmers.

He explained that the idea of people going to their gardens at around 7am and coming back at 6pm will lead to low outputs.

“I have to walk for 3Km to the farm and 3Km back which is very hectic. People have turned all their energies to coronavirus and are ignoring agriculture,” he said.

Mr Baliraine added; “Most Ugandans are employed by agriculture directly or indirectly. So when this disease is controlled, people will not have money to buy food, which will leave other farmers with no income.”

He explained that some people invested in animals which they could sell in future but these animals are also dying because of immobility of veterinary doctors.

“Food is becoming a big asset, even farmers are insecure, I have an acre of potatoes but people have resorted to stealing because they don’t have money to buy food. So I end up guarding the food instead of tilling other chunks of land elsewhere,” he says.

For Mr John Baptist Malinzi, a farmer with Aliba Ategedde Farm Group in Kyotera district, he has already started feeling the impact of coronavirus.

Two weeks since government banned public transport, the prices of horticulture have dropped drastically.

“Before the outbreak, I was selling a sack of passion fruits at farm gate price Shs450,000, then it dropped to Shs250,000. But now I sell the same quantity at Shs40,000, the consumption is low; people are not coming from Kampala anymore,” he said.

He added, “Some fruits are going to waste because I’m not selling all of them.”

Minister’s take
Mr Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, admitted that there will be food shortage and drop in disposable income for farmers if they stop working in the name of waiting for the coronavirus to pass.

He explained that farmers should look at this as an opportunity to work hard and reap later rather than stocking food.

“I have been informing people to go on with their duties, the President allowed shops of fertilisers and other agro-inputs to be open,” he said.

Ssempijja added; “People will need food locally and regionally. Even the sick will need that food as farmers will also need the income. So let people get to work.

He also said that government will continue with extending farm inputs through the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) and encouraging extension officers to do their job.

Lockdown cuts productivity in agriculture
Transport restrictions are likely to impede farmers’ access to input and output markets.

Most farmers who spoke to Prosper magazine agreed that although small scale farmers contribute 80 per cent of the food in the country with Agriculture contributing 22.5 per cent of the GDP, people have turned their energies to fighting coronavirus.

According to Mr Senyonyi, people are uncertain about tomorrow. “Farmers have resigned to fate and think this could be the end of the world. All the money they were planning to buy inputs has been kept and others are instead stocking food,” he said.

Mr Malinzi says farmers have also cut investments on their gardens, a situation that is likely to affect production.

“Where fertilisers were needed, they don’t buy them because fertiliser money has been channeled to buy food so by the end of the day, yields will be low.”

The impact of covid19 also spill over to food processing industries, which could have suspended production.

Last week, President Museveni in his address to the nation said; “Like the farms, we would like the factories to keep producing because that is the life-blood of the country.”

With daily movement of workers was frozen, farmers say agricultural production is slowing down since few companies can afford to accommodate workers at site.

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