‘Agriculture will revive our economy after Covid-19’

A worker packages crisps in a factory in Mbale Industrial Park. NAADS is focusing on boosting value addition in the country. PHOTO BY KELVIN ATUHAIRE

What should farmers across the country expect from NAADs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic?
As NAADS, we have already distributed initial seeds. We have mainly distributed maize seeds and most farmers have planted them and others are doing so. In total, we have distributed about 498,000 kilogrammes of maize seeds to different districts. Most of what we have distributed so far is not enough to cover all the farmers in the country. The good news is that plans are underway to distribute additional seeds for quick maturing crops so that they can be planted during this rainy season.

Our plan is to distribute between 2 million and 3 million kilograms of additional maize seed targeting districts in Eastern, Northern and parts of central regions whose rainy season goes up to July.
The other regions will receive planting materials at the beginning of the second season in August 2020. So they shouldn’t worry. We also have plans of distributing bean seeds although at the moment, there is scarcity of the seed (bean) on the local market.

What is the impact of this pandemic on food security?
Farming has not been affected so much by Covid-19. This is because it is one of the essential activities that President Museveni directed to continue operating, considering that people have to eat. So with our efforts to provide additional seeds to farmers, we believe that the country will be food secure during and after Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, we see farmers continuing to earn and this is good for households.

However, there have been some reports regarding livestock farmers who have lost animals and birds due to the lockdown. But President Museveni said agro-inputs shops should remain open. The President also directed that pick-ups ferrying animal and poultry feeds are allowed to operate. So this issues shouldn’t be much of a problem. Also extension workers haven’t gone to rest, they have continued to do their work of supporting farmers in need of extension services.

Could this pandemic be a blessing in disguise in terms of emphasis on food production and household income or its disruption in normal flow of work?
We don’t think it is a blessing in anyway because of the disruptions it has occasioned on so many economic sectors, including those that compliment agriculture. Our plans is to ensure farmers have access to the relevant agricultural inputs during and after Covid-19 for increased production and productivity and improved household incomes. On the other hand, we encourage farmers to continue doing their business to ensure availability of food because people have to eat with or without Covid-19.

Just before the novel coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), NAADs had some activities in Buhweju in Western Uganda which is one of the districts that constitute the Ankole sub-region. What were you up to?
We are trying to promote value addition in tea because that is an area that we believe can produce and process its tea. This is good for employment. Also tea production is not that labour intensive. Someone does not have to inject a lot of money in growing tea and it could be a source of a daily income as well.

So what is your planning to have tea factories over there?
The private sector has already made the move to establish additional factories. Already, there is a government tea factory in Buhweju which is operating beyond its capacity. The factory is forced to work in 24 hours because the tea leaf is too much for them to handle in a single shift. So, we have three private sector players that have seen the opportunity. We shall continue ensuring there are enough tea seedlings for all the operators.

Do you intend to replicate the Buhweju model across the country as we navigate the devastating effects of this pandemic?
Yes, with some modifications. Our main concern is to look out for our peoples’ livelihoods. We want them to keep improving their incomes and food security. We talked to individual tea farmers, got to understand their stories and how NAADs is impacting on their lives. We found out that the beneficiaries of our programmes are diverse and going by their revelations, we believe our impact has been immense. But this does not mean we cannot do more. We want to see farmers earning more income, households living quality lives and food security becoming part and parcel of the routine fixture.

What is happening in Buhweju can easily be replicated in Kabale and Kisoro. These two districts also grow some tea. We have also selected some 17 districts which are tea growing areas in regions across the country and working with Uganda Developed Corporation tea factories will be established there. Our job will be to ensure they have the raw materials they need.

Currently, we are putting some more emphasis in value addition, considering that we have registered some good work in production already. You will begin seeing us focusing towards value addition in partnership with other government agencies such as UDC.

Already, we are clustering the entire country for every commodity.


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