Ballot box looks like matooke harvest

Thursday July 9 2020

 

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Fresh bunches of matooke are being harvested all over the country. Different varieties of coking bananas are coming to Kampala.

The prices reflect another looming problem. In the 1980s, farmers shifted from coffee and bananas as these crops were ravaged by a number of diseases.

The coffee wilt disease wiped out entire coffee shambas not to mention the collapse of the government marketing machinery through the Coffee Marketing Moard. In respect to bananas, older varieties of matooke intercropped with coffee did not survive.

In 1990, a bumper year for coffee caused by a poor Brazil crop had the existing farmers celebrated the windfall. The Minister of Finance at the time celebrated this windfall, but advised that the windfall go into a special fund, the coffee stabilisation fund. Brazil recovered to its dominant position, and not much was heard of this fund.

Matooke ravaged by nematodes made bananas one of the most expensive foodstuffs. Farmers switched to “non-traditional” crops. The most promoted were maize, beans and soybean. These were very attractive because they had a wider scope through the Department of Barter Trade of the Ministry of Commerce.

Companies like Energoprojeckt came to construct roads and were paid through produce bought by the government.
After a strong doze of massive devaluation, retrenchment and currency reform, war-weary Ugandans associated tools of the Obote regime with the old era and just for the sake of a new image, embraced the crisp currency, which accomplished a huge devaluation and government did not have to pay for this.

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The government made some changes and hired Joash Mayanja Nkangi as their third minister of Finance after Prof Ponsiano Mulema and Dr Chrispus Kiyonga, copies of whose Budgets are rare to find yet Mulema’s sole 1986 Budget, very short detailing economic recovery is available.

Uganda’s soya economy had little time for perennial crops, which took so long or coffee which took five years, but the soil did not keep any value that accumulated year after year.

Unions were ravaged by lack of financing. In one half of the country, insurgency ravaged cotton. Insurgency distorted leadership.
With hindsight, a policy of “connect the people” got many people connected on the national transport network. The country also began grappling with managing its surplus of labour.

Kyeyo or export of labour was not the first policy in this area, but labour markets began on a small scale, people moved from Kigezi to Rwampara and became quite wealthy growing matooke relatively unhindered. A bunch of matooke could break your back carrying it from the valley to the main road.

Buganda started registering food shortages and the price of matooke went up. In recent years, rather than disengaging from matooke, government went full scale to support growth of matooke. People growing matooke are on the Internet even though they are overfeeding their plants.

Hazard a guess, fully mulching one acre of matooke in Mbarara is about Shs4 million. No one gives out free manure. But these farmers are not going to get this money back at current prices.

Social media has some heartbreaking stories of farmers trying to offload matooke by the significant volume –in the villages they do self-marketing. Selling to the large trucks is a cartel trade.

Government is aware of the problem and its report that matooke had reached Shs1,000 per bunch was widely read. So the people are hungry and they have food, but there is a risk that like locusts on a ballot paper, there may not be much soon.

So the Internet farmers have to answer a questions: Is this a business or a hobby. Even coffee farmers fed on a diet of low prices cannot sell at Shs1,000.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate.