Government investments in value addition should be focused

Tuesday June 30 2015
farming03 pix

Farmers would benefit from government-backed initiatives to add value to their produce if they were better organised along the value chain. PHOTO BY RACHEAL AJWANG

I recently visited Butaleja District, one of the districts in the rice growing areas in Uganda. Though I was on a mission to establish the supply potential of rice, I was inevitably drawn to the other value chain activities there.
A noticeable improvement as regards government intervention in this district was modern rice processing plants that have more facilities than the traditional rice mills we are used to.
Two government mills in Mulandu and Nabiganda are high calibre that they mill rice and can sort and grade according to one’s preference. Stones are sorted from the rice, and broken rice separated from whole grain, among others.

Harmonise the ecosystem
A discussion with the managers revealed that farmers hardly use the full abilities of the mills. They prefer to stop at milling. Any attempt to convince them to utilise the sorting facility falls on deaf ears. They do not want to get less weight after stones and broken rice are removed.
The fact that this mindset is prevalent among the farmers is an indicator of a project with right intentions not being well communicated to the stakeholders.

At project formulation, the team should have had not only engineers who installed the equipment but also value chain specialists, researchers, extension workers and agribusiness experts. There is a need to harmonise the ecosystem to understand expectations and fears of various stakeholders.
Take the case of farmers fearing a reduction in the weight of their rice, giving them less revenue. This mindset is borne out of their understanding of the market with a one-price-suits-all scenario.

Enlighten farmers
If Kayiso rice is at Shs1,800 per kilo, which is what is paid for an entire consignment. However, from agribusiness and value addition perspectives, one can help the farmers realise that they can grade their rice and sell at differential rates.
Whole grain Kayiso will definitely fetch a higher price than broken Kayiso rice thereby offsetting anticipated losses in reduced weight.
It would then take extension workers to enlighten the farmers about these benefits and the value chain experts would be tasked with catalysing the market to attempt the new models.

This way, the acceptance for grading as a mode of value addition would slowly but surely lead to the transformation of the farming community.
At Kiyindi landing site in Buikwe District, mukene fish used to be sold in measures of a basin. When a new player came in a few years ago, he insisted on selling his catch in kilos since it offered more predictability. Today, most mukene dealers have embraced a similar approach.

Uncoordinated approach
In line with what I found in Butaleja, it was reported in the news that farmers in Iganga have abandoned a multi-million shilling incubator, which was installed three years ago.
The reasons are: Failure to raise the 500 eggs—minimum number—required to operate the incubator. The death of most birds initially supplied to meet the incubator’s requirements thereby leading to low egg production. The temptation for quick money from Sudanese and Kenyan traders who offer a good price.
Once again, it is clear that there must have been an uncoordinated approach in the rundown to the implementation of this project.
The farming community did not get to appreciate the need to have a hatchery and how it works in the grand scheme of transforming agricultural practices from subsistence to commercial.


Genuine transformation
The government has planned for more money in agriculture in the 2016/2017 Budget. It will, however, be important to reassess the implementation strategies to ensure that initiatives are not handled in a silo manner.
The distribution of fruit seedlings in a particular region could go with the planning and construction of a fruit processing plant. On completion it should be able to process the produce thereby guaranteeing the farmers more incomes.

Parallel activities could be construction of better roads for market access, extension workers to guide the farmers, setting up farmers’ cooperatives, training in basic fruit processing among others.
It is only a holistic approach to interventions in the agriculture sector that will yield a genuine transformation from subsistence to commercial farming. Scattered interventions whose sole aim is to tick off activities as deliverables are just cosmetic. They are of no real value on the ground.

The writer is an agribusiness
and ICT consultant. Follow @wirejames

[email protected]