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ACDP: Govt project draws over 8, 000 Bugweri farmers to gardens but rare earth boom leaves some beneficiaries wary

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Bukoteka Village LC1 chairperson Lazarus Tenywa Mukhoka (R) walks past a road choke with locals, mostly ACDP farmer beneficiaries, in Bugweri District on May 17, 2024. Despite benefiting from ACDP, more than 100 farmers are due to be affected by a multi-trillion mining project in Bugweri District. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

Hundreds of farmer beneficiaries of a government project which drew at least 8, 264 farmers to gardens in Bugweri District are wary as an open-pit mining project valued at Shs60.1 trillion gains boom, authorities have said.  

For over 50 years, profiting from agriculture was a distant prospect for thousands of farmers in the impoverished Eastern Uganda Bugweri District as they faced twin challenges of low agricultural output and living at the mercy of brutal price fluctuations.

Farmers had abandoned farming until this Agriculture Cluster Development Project (ACDP) came here in 2018, said Harriet Nguna, the Bugweri District Agriculture Officer (DAO) and ACDP focal person.

Women gather during an engagement with local leaders and agricultural officials in Bugweri District on May 17, 2024. District agricultural officials say close to 4, 000 women farmers directly benefited from ACDP. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

ACDP was a unique $150 million initiative supported by the World Bank- and implemented by Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) to raise production and marketable volumes of selected commodities like maize, beans, rice, cassava and coffee in specified geographic clusters across 57 districts since 2017.

The initiative was rolled out in the district’s 5 sub-counties and 3 town councils as soon as it was curved out of Iganga District in 2018.  

“All the 8,264 farmers who enrolled for ACDP’s e-voucher co-funding component with a contribution of Shs45, 000 obtained subsidized inputs like pick bags, hermetic bags, tarpaulin, maize seeds, pesticides and fertilizers which increased Bugweri District’s agricultural production,” Nguna told Monitor.

While growers contributed 33% in most parts of Uganda, farmers in Bugweri District initially co-financed 10% as leaders of cooperatives admittedly negotiated with MAAIF officials to ease direct delivery of inputs to beneficiaries in farmer groups.

Bugweri District Agriculture Officer Harriet Nguna illustrates agronomic practices in a garden on May 17, 2024. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

For efficacy, Bugweri District agricultural officials were given tablets equipped with an e-diary tool to monitor extension workers training growers on best farming techniques.

Besides, some beneficiary agrarians were supplied 20kgs of lowland rice variety WITA 9 although majority farmers were handed 10kgs of either Bazooka or Longe-10H hybrid maize seeds to plant over an acre.

According to agricultural experts, the said varieties mature in 130 days, slightly longer than open pollinated varieties.

“From an acre, farmers were able to get 15 bags of 100kgs, up from 4 using traditional varieties. However, more farmers later replanted and increased their acreage after the initial season. Even rice, increased from 5 to 21 bags in an acre. ACDP has suppressed hunger in the district. We don’t have food scarcity,” Nguna explained.

Farmers revel in market, value addition

Under the ACDP matching grant, Nguna said, Bugweri District received 1 rice and 8 maize milling machines plus their shelters after a 33% co-funding by different cooperatives intent on value addition.

One such beneficiary is Bulunguli Farmers' Multipurpose Cooperative Society, a group started in 2017 with 30 people in Buyanga Sub-county- predominantly engaged in maize value addition, while it also processes rice and soybean.

“By the time ACDP came, we were around 500 members just producing food. We’re over 700 now. What brought us together was the issue of looking for storage and market since we were far from the centres of Iganga, Busia and Jinja and the roads were poor at the time,’’ Ronald Kyozira, chairman of the cooperative, said on May 17.

Bulunguli Farmers' Multipurpose Cooperative Society chairman Ronald Kyozira (R) inspects works in the group's processing unit in Bugweri District as seen on May 17, 2024. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

Having paid Shs78million in a co-funding arrangement, the cooperative received a Shs168 million ACDP grant which would later become a society game changer.

According to Kyozira, the cooperative used the grant to construct a storage facility with capacity to stock 10 trucks- each of 10 metric tons of maize. 

“Off-takers from other districts would come here, weigh our produce and cheat us. Following ACDP, buyers no longer want to pick 100kgs, 200kgs or 300kgs. They want bulky products and that has been a big factor in our progress,” he added.

A machine operator prepares to start processing grain inside a factory house at Bulunguli Farmers' Multipurpose Cooperative Society in in Bulunguli Village/Parish, Buyenga Sub-county in Bugweri District. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

A general view of the structures housing a storage facility, grain milling machines and shelters at Bulunguli Farmers' Multipurpose Cooperative Society in Bugweri District as seen on May 17, 2024. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

Further, Kyozira notes that the cooperative used the remainder of the funding to procure a water tank, safety gadgets and a machine with capacity to mill 600-700kgs of maize per hour as it launched itself into value addition in 2021.

Now, Bulunguli Village maize grower Joshua Mwondha, who estimated his initial planting season investment in the grain at less than Shs400, 000 (including the co-funding) for an acre, said “empowered cooperatives have arrested inflation and created market for farmers like him in addition to conducting helpful trainings on best agronomic practices.”

Regarding market bottlenecks such as price fluctuation due to increased production, Nguna said, “Agricultural officers are now engaging farmers to export grain to Kenya, Tanzania and Europe after value addition.”

Maize farmer Joshua Mwondha, who is also the Bulunguli Farmers' Multipurpose Cooperative Society operations manager, speaks during an interview in Bugweri District on May 17, 2024. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

Both Mwondha and Kyozira appealed for extension of ACDP as they jointly voiced belief that the initiative had a far-reaching multiplier effect in Eastern Uganda.

“That grant did wonders here. We didn’t even have power, but we wrote to the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) after getting the machine and now we have paid Umeme more than Shs150milllion since we started,” he disclosed.  

“We pay our staff here and no one is demanding. We pay taxes and don’t have any Uganda Revenue Authority official that can come here to penalize us. We also knew ACDP would end so we established the only agro-input shop in this area,” he added.

An attendant is seen on duty at an agro-input shop owned by Bulunguli Farmers' Multipurpose Cooperative Society in Bugweri District on May 17, 2024. Leaders of the cooperative say they started the shop to ensure sustainable supply of inputs to farmers for continuity of improved ACDP linked production. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

This photo taken on May 17, 2024 shows a factory worker displaying pure white maize flour produced, processed and packed by Bulunguli Farmers' Multipurpose Cooperative Society in in Bulunguli Village/Parish, Buyenga Sub-county in Bugweri District. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

Bugweri LC5 chairperson Shafiq Muziransa followed to say that “rural electrification has since 2021 been enabled in all ACDP target sub-counties” that had long endured spells of darkness and reliance on inefficient generators as contrasted with production demands.

Authorities wary over rare earth metals mine

Speaking to Monitor, Nguna expressed concern that the merits of ACDP are likely to be undone in Makuutu Sub-county, where a 27-year project of mining rare earth metals valued at $16 billion (over Shs60 trillion) is taking shape.

At the time of Monitor’s mid-May visit, a trial lab had already been constructed amid collection of mineral samples ahead of the Rwenzori Rare Metals (RMM) project for which mining commences in 2025 across 37kms in Eastern Uganda districts of Bugweri, Mayuge, Bugiri and Iganga.

“In Bugweri, the project will affect 20 villages of over 25, 000 people. At least 187 farmer beneficiaries (mostly maize growers) of the ACDP matching grant for Makandwe Business and Farmers’ Association will be displaced,” Nguna noted.

As further RMM interference looms, authorities plan to transfer the grant to other parishes within the affected sub-county, without necessarily depriving the intended beneficiary sub-county.

“The project affects 2 parishes. We are now seeking advice from MAAIF on how we shall handle. Some of the farmers were compensated and they have scattered already,” Nguna remarked.

ACDP catapults trade

Still in remote Bugweri District, the Ugandan government spent Shs437million to develop a 12.5km murram network with up to 5 chokes rehabilitated across deadly water expanses on the originally impassable Butende-Ibulanku-Nawasega-Buyebe-Idudi Road.

 “The rehabilitated road choke has benefitted farmers especially women who could die trying to cross swamps as they were shoulder carried. The swamps on this road had become infamous for claiming lives,” said Christopher Muliba, chairman for Nsaale Parish’s Buyebe Cell, which is one of the several villages along which the road snakes through.

Christopher Muliba, chairman for Nsaale Parish’s Buyebe Cell ion Bugweri District speaks during an interview with Monitor on May 17, 2024. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

His Bukoteka Village counterpart Lazarus Tenywa Mukhoka said: “Now, our children can go to school properly and our goods can be sent to market centres like Busesa and neighbouring districts like Iganga, Mbale and Busia.”  

A man rides a motorcycle on May 17, 2024 across a road choke constructed over a water expanse on a rehabiliated 12.5km road in Bugweri District. PHOTO/MICHEAL KAKUMIRIZI

Earlier, Kyozira told this publication that ACDP infrastructural developments, including the roads connecting hard to reach villages to Bulunguli Parish and other major markets, have catapulted trade.

“During a peak rice season, our cooperative hires a truck which takes 10 metric tons of rice to Kampala every after 2 days. Even where we used to mill from, they bring their rice to us and we sale on their behalf in Kampala 2-3 times a week. We have many partners, and that friendship was created by ACDP,” he vaunted.

But for Muziransa, a phase two return of the initiative could be a magic bullet to further sweep natives out of poverty.

“We’re ranked amongst the poorest districts in Uganda but if there’s an opportunity that ACDP can return in Bugweri District, I would be grateful because we want to continue going upwards,” he appealed.

Bugweri LC5 chairperson Shafiq Faraji Muziransa speaks during an interview with Monitor on May 17, 2024. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI