Why OWC cannot lift Amudat farmers out of poverty

Saturday May 25 2019

Beneficiary.  A boy tends to some of the

Beneficiary. A boy tends to some of the Fresian cows distributed to some beneficiaries under the Operation Wealth Creation in Amudat District. Photos by Leonard Mukholi.  

By Ivan Okuda and Leonard Mukooli

Tracking down beneficiaries of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) in Karamoja sub-region feels like a walk down the earthly treasure of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in western Uganda. You need an experienced tour guide and a local grounded in the geography of the area to get you to actual beneficiaries lest you plunge into a fishing expedition. Does that speak to the spread and impact of the programme here, thin on ground, thick in documentary evidence paraded in the capital city? We shall find out.

Carved out of Nakapiripirit District in 2010, Amudat District borders Moroto to the north and Kenya to the east and as of 2013 estimates, it had a population of about 143,000 people, mainly consisting of the Pokot, whose customary roots are similar to those of Kenya’s Kalenjin.
A 2012/13 statistical abstract developed by Amudat District Local Government described the district as one of the least developed areas in the country, with high illiteracy levels, infant mortality rates, under five child malnutrition and prevalent abject poverty.

Development initiatives and service delivery, it was noted, are hampered by “internal and external sporadic occurrence of insecurity as a result of untamed use of guns held by the Karimojong, Pokot and the Kadama”.
Majority of the people in this part of the country access their livelihood from livestock and agricultural produce (sorghum and maize), but due to dry spells and lack of adequate water for livestock, the people lead a semi nomadic lifestyle that gets them moving to neighboring districts in desperate search for water and pasture.

This socio-economic context of Karamoja is important in so far as it serves as a useful benchmark in appraising OWC for which questions such as whether the unique set-up and challenges of areas like these with such dry spells, inform the rolling out of the programme and its implementation. A mismatch at that level of planning and execution would be reflected on the ground, especially if one is going to implement agricultural interventions for districts such as these the same way they would for a district such as Mbarara or Kayunga or Gulu; give out animals, seedlings and go home, leaving the rest to whom it may concern.

Three kilometres from Amudat District headquarters lives 75-year-old Margaret Chepopkeya, a mother of seven in Jumbe village, at the heart of the town council.
Chepopkeya received one freshian cow, a pig, one goat, 40kgs of maize and 50kgs of beans from OWC. Upon planting the maize, she harvested 12kgs and half a sack from the beans. The fall army worm, which ravaged the country’s maize plantations, affected her output, while reckless herdsmen let their cattle loose on her beans garden. The heavy rains too caused floods that saw her watch her garden go to waste.

From her freshian cow, she says: “I am now able to get eight litres of milk everyday, which I sell and keep some for home consumption.” For all the noticeable household income boost the animals from OWC have brought to her life, her skin crawls at the thought of the feeding challenges abound, even more at the treatment needs.
The old woman speaks with disillusion about the rounds of dry spells that strike, drying up the pasture lands and the agony she has to go through feeding the dairy cattle originating from Netherlands and Germany, which can hardly walk a long distance like the local breeds which are accustomed to harsh weather conditions.

That means, she says with a tinge of frustration laden in her strong Ngakarimojong accent: “I have to spend a lot of money to fuel a motorcycle to get grass for the animal from as far as 40kms in Moruita Sub-county in Nakapiripirit District. Water access is also a big problem as I have to provide at least 100 litres of water daily for drinking and cooling the temperatures of the animals during the dry season.”


Add to that the quagmire that is access to veterinary extension services, considering that “the officers are not on ground,” as she shares.
“When they come, they charge me a lot of money to examine and treat the animals.”
For small holder farmers like Chepopkeya to benefit from OWC, she proposes that “the officers concerned should educate farmers on better methods of storing animal feed that they can use during the dry spell and government should subsidise the animal drugs so farmers can access them at an affordable price.”

Chepopkeya’s story, used as a case study, is a fairly accurate mirror of the situation in Karamoja sub-region, western Uganda and the north, where this writer has studied OWC operations by placing beneficiary farmers at the frontline of appraisal of the programme. The script, it emerges, from these three regions, is that OWC officials identify Ugandans like Chepopkeya, who fit the criterion of those who should benefit on such commendable factors as advanced age, widowhood, HIV/Aids patients, youth, women and progressive farmers. This, to the credit of the programme, is a laudable approach to addressing household income deficiency among the country’s poorest and most vulnerable groups.

The challenges that this old woman enumerates are not what one can casually dismiss as Ugandans expecting too much from the State, but looked at from a public policy standpoint, are a microcosmic representation of everything that can go wrong in a multi-billion programme when its implementation is not given sufficient thought.
How, for example, in light of the realities of the people and place of Karamoja captured in the district statistical abstract, such as dry spells, does the State in its formulation of the programme and implementation factor address those challenges such that the gains are not lost altogether?

High maintenance.  A girl pours water on a cow

High maintenance. A girl pours water on a cow distributed under the Operation Wealth Creation programme to keep its temperature down.

Commenting on the water access crisis in this region, Mr Swidiq Mugerwa, an official from the National Livestock Resources Research Institute in Tororo District, in a paper titled ‘Status of Livestock Water Sources in Karamoja Sub-Region’ recommends that “The current pattern of development needs to be reconsidered while taking into account three fundament issues inherent in the pastoral communities; (i) water developers ought to understand the range land context for effective planning; (ii) strive to rehabilitate and develop water sources with sensitivity to range land dynamics and pastoralists needs; and, (iii) developers should seek to secure sustainability through capacity-building, user contributions and strengthen and use customary institutions and practices.”

To what extent OWC as a programme factor recommendations from experts like Mr Mugerwa remains unascertainable, but there is evidence, at least on ground, that the casual treatment accorded to make or break issues that must first be addressed in the programme chain, is having dire ramifications, with billions of tax payers’ money potentially going to waste while suppliers of livestock, some of whom sell the same to government at astronomical prices compared to the market rate, fatten their appetite to tap into the OWC supply bonanza.

In Kalas Village in Amudat Town Council, Mary Nambuya, a 30-year-old farmer and market vendor, got two pigs, 10kgs of both maize and beans from OWC. She says her first harvest in 2016 was poor as she lost most of her potential harvest to the fall army worm, but in 2018, her yield improved as she was able to harvest six bags of maize grain and two bags of beans. Her pigs have since multiplied to six, having sold some from which she earned Shs2 million to boost her business. Her household income has improved and she is content with her progress.
“OWC has helped improve food security in my home, as well as income and I suggest that government puts farmers in groups so that we can benefit more considering that we can do large scale farming as a group,” she said in an interview.

President Museveni’s ambition is to parachute Ugandans such as Nambuya to middle income status by 2020, a feat his own Finance minister Matia Kasaija has publicly admitted is a pie in the sky.
The World Bank defines lower middle income economies as those with a GNI per capita between $1,006 (about Shs3.7m) and 3,955 (about Shs14.6m), while upper middle income nations have GNI per capita of between $3,956 (about Shs14.6m) and $12,235 (about Shs45m) as of 2018. The 2017 World Bank estimate of Uganda’s per capita income was $606 (about Shs2.2m).

That means for citizens like Nambuya and the few beneficiaries of OWC in Karamoja to benefit from this programme as a vehicle to the middle income dream destination, they would have to keep staring at the clock as the household income they attest to, arising from sale of a few litres of milk or excess produce from OWC supplies, still keeps them chained in the subsistence farming conundrum that all the agricultural interventions from as far back as Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture have successfully failed to uplift them from.

Essentially, from multiple interviews with these beneficiaries and district officials who interact with and work in the OWC programme arena, attempts by OWC, Naads and other programmes in the past have been, as one senior official put it, “try and error, we don’t seem to learn from past mistakes. You can’t deal with village farmers as if they have access to water, drugs, pasture, just give them animals and disappear. First do the basics. Deal with the bottlenecks that have kept them on hand to mouth. This OWC programme simply assumes by giving seedlings and animals you have taken the Karimojong to heaven. It is more than just inputs, if you really want to improve agriculture”.
Fifty-year-old Chemekea Longurabol, a mother of six in Katuko Village in Loroo Sub-county, belongs to Kodike Women Farmers’ group, which prioritised beans, maize, poultry, goats and cows.

The 10-member group embarked on a four-acre model of farming and received 40kgs of maize and beans, which supplemented their own stock of 3kgs. The group harvested the maize and beans, fetching 15 bags and 10 bags, respectively. They became Shs1 million richer and saved the proceeds in their savings account. Members of the savings and credit cooperative then borrow from this pool and be able to buy insecticides.
Mr Museveni has been particularly passionate about the four-acre model where in his preaching, he states each acre is dedicated to a particular high value crop. In a tweet on April 26, 2018, he wrote: “I assure farmers that there is market for products like coffee and maize, but you must ensure the quality is good.” In an earlier tweet on April 15, 2018, he wrote: “Besides the four-acre model that we have preached since 1996, the government has now set up the youth and women funds to engage in incoming generating projects.”

The challenges President Museveni spoke of

The challenges President Museveni spoke of before launching OWC, continue to this day to chock the progress of the programme and like he said of Naads, the impact of the programme remains a beautifully written riddle chorused by officials in Kampala.

During a poverty eradication campaign in Busoga sub-region in 2014, the President told his audience that it is possible to overcome poverty through modern agriculture, but quickly admitted that despite his government investing resources in programmes designed to achieve that, there remained little tangible outcomes to show.
“There is a big problem with Naads both at planning level in the Agriculture ministry and implementation level by the local governments and we are reviewing it with a view to investing more resources in providing farmers with breeding stock and seedlings and less on monitoring and supervision.”

Naads vs Operation wealth creation
In spite of threats to phase out and send Naads packing, the programme has remained and still plays a critical role, including procurement, while letting OWC operatives do the distribution. True to his word, the government allocated more resources to inputs but in there lies the puzzle, which brings Mr Museveni back to the same complaints he had against Naads and other similar programmes that eventually got phased out.

With Naads less on the ground, OWC now at the closest interaction level with the farmer, the State seems to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from the past. Fixing the country’s agriculture remains a target in motion. Five steps forward, four back.
Maj Peter Kyoshabe, the OWC district coordinator of Mbarara, in an interview with this newspaper a few months ago, asserted that his duty is to check if the farmers are ready for supplies, sensitise them and ascertain their needs. He oversees at least 200,000 potential beneficiaries of the programme.

Maj Kyoshabe noted that the challenge remains achieving a mindset shift among the people as there is little or no value attached to the inputs received from government and others get dumped.
The implementation of the programme also lacks a multi stakeholder approach, which deprives it of the necessary nutrients needed to achieve its desired potential.

“There is also a challenge of fake suppliers and delays within the procurement process of Naads. The original Naads arrangement had a procurement process that went up to the sub-county level, but today, it is centralised and so you have a little more bureaucracy but also supply of inputs is not demand-driven,” Maj Kyoshabe asserted.

Challenges persist
The challenges the President spoke of before launching OWC, continue to this day to chock the progress of the programme and like he said of Naads, the impact of the programme, at least in the scope of uplifting people from poverty, remains a beautifully written riddle chorused by officials in Kampala, who appear preoccupied with driving SUVs and earning allowances while suppliers have a feast, supplying government with animals and produce over and above the market price.

“Everything that can go wrong with this programme has gone wrong,” one district official in Amudat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
If the 10 members of the Kodike Farmers Group were to rely on OWC supplies and basing on how the programme executes its mandate, throwing seedlings and a few animals here and there, making beneficiaries sign forms then driving off to the next village then back to air conditioned offices in Kampala or the barracks, it would take the members of this group waiting for decades, as one shared, before they can meet the World Bank benchmark of middle income status, just no less than Shs9 million earnings as a measure of per capita.

Wasted money
Despite Parliament calling for a review and streamlining of OWC operations, the Executive remains adamant while billions of shillings go to waste, benefiting an almost negligible part of the population as elites who captured the supply side of the programme smile to the bank.
Daniel Simiyu, the Amudat Sub-county agriculture officer, says there is a gradual change of attitude of the local farmers towards embracing crop production in the area, though there is a negative attitude among the locals towards pigs. OWC continues to give out pigs.

The Amudat District production officer, Mr Robert Kimanayi, affirms that farmers have shown a desire to adapt to crop production but harsh climatic conditions, characterised with prolonged drought and little rain, pose a big threat to their efforts. Irrigation schemes, if government were to have an all-round outlook to the agriculture question in Karamoja, remain on the lips of officials.

Mr Kimanayi hopes that mechanisation of agriculture can happen in his lifetime considering that recipients of OWC inputs still use rudimentary methods of cultivation, which can only keep them enchained to peasant agriculture.
If you drove from Kampala and asked a reasonable man on the street in Amudat what OWC has achieved, there will be a mixed bag of reactions but the average farmer and district official will most likely utter the words of little Oliver Twist in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, “Please, Sir, I want more more.”

Location. Carved out of Nakapiripirit District in 2010, Amudat District borders Moroto to the north and Kenya to the east.
Population. As of 2013 estimates, it had a population of about 143,000 people, mainly consisting of the Pokot, whose customary roots are similar to those of Kenya’s Kalenjin.
It is one of the least developed areas in the country, with high illiteracy levels, infant mortality rates, under five child malnutrition and prevalent abject poverty.

This special report series was made possible by a story grant from the Open Society Initiative for East Africa (OSIEA).