What you need to know:
- After the failure of the presidential banana initiative in the sub-region, some farmers are targeting the project to get better returns and avoid exploitative middlemen.
As the government rolls out the Parish Development Model (PDM) project, farmers in Ankole Sub-region are pushing for value addition so that their local products compete favourably both on the local and international market.
The farmers say their produce has often been sold without value addition thus opening window for exploitation by some traders and middlemen.
They have also asked the government to direct more funding to the sub-region for the programme to be able to create a bigger impact as well as set up processing plants to add value to their produce.
“The PDM money is little and the government should increase it if it is to make a big impact,” says Mr Purinaria Bigumire, 50, a banana farmer and a resident of Gando Village in Ngarama Sub-county Isingiro District.
Mr Bigumire belongs to Gando Tweterana Group, which is yet to receive Shs17m in the first phase promised for each parish.
He says once the money is disbursed, each household is expected to receive Shs1m, which he says is not enough to buy local manure (cow dung) to improve the quality of his bananas since soils have lost fertility.
“I am a commercial farmer and to realise this dream, I would require Shs100m to improve my plantations. Under the PDM arrangement, we are getting Shs100m to benefit more than 3,000 families. Every month, I produce 500 bunches of matooke, and if well supported, I can harvest 1,000 bunches,” he says.
Mr Bigumire sells a bunch of matooke at Shs25,000 in a good season. But with the current drought, he makes less profits.
Mr Geoffrey Aine, a banana and dairy farmer in Isingiro District, is also rooting for value addition.
He observes that whereas the government established the Presidential Initiative for Banana Development (PIBID) to process bananas in the region and improve the prices, “it is a white elephant and has not benefited farmers.”
“We are the biggest producers of bananas in the country but we are still poor because of price fluctuations. What is more urgent now is for the government to identify markets for our matooke locally and internationally. This means adding value to it. This will expand markets for our products and improve our livelihoods,” he says.
The farmers also want the government to establish more banana factories to process their matooke.
“The factories will also give jobs to our children. We can also get banana peelings that will feed our animals and manure for our plantations. This will give us better quality matooke,” Mr Aine says.
Mr Francis Natukunda, a resident of Kigurusi cell in Bumbaire Sub-county in Bushenyi District, says banana processing factories would protect them from being exploited by middlemen.
“A bunch of bananas currently goes for Shs2,000 if you are lucky to find a buyer, but most of the farmers are using them to feed their animals, and we have Nyaruzinga (PIBID) that has taken a lot of money with an aim of adding value to our matooke. But so many years down the road, we have not benefited,” Mr Natukunda says. He says the government should always consult the locals before implementing programmes to address the needs of people.
The PIBID initiative was designed to help smallholder matooke farmers in Bushenyi (now greater Bushenyi) enhance their yields and add value to the raw matooke.
A new report, however, says PIBID has not achieved its intended objective since 2005 when it was launched.
According to the 2020 report sanctioned by the Directorate of Socio-Economic Monitoring and Research under the Office of the President, the initiative suffered many challenges, including managerial.
A state-of-the-art matooke processing pilot plant was established at Nyaruzinga, Bushenyi, in January 2005 at a cost of Shs22b, but it is yet to produce products on a commercial scale.
Farmers identify enterprises
According to the Isingiro District commercial officer, Mr Patrick Musinguzi, coffee and banana growing are the most sought after enterprises in Ankole.
Dairy farming is dominant in Kiruhura, Kazo, Isingiro, Ntungamo, Mbarara, Sheema, and Bushenyi districts.
“As Isingiro, we are largely banana farmers, but we also do dairy and coffee farming. In Ankole, we practice so many enterprises, including dairy farming, banana, coffee, tea, vanilla, and poultry, among others,” he says.
Mitooma, Rubirizi, Buhweju, and Bushenyi are dominant in tea growing.
Other enterprises that were registered for PDM include piggery, pineapple growing, bee keeping, poultry, goat rearing, fish farming, vanilla growing, and beans, among others.
Farmers are, however, challenged by the current weather conditions, which have largely affected livestock farming since the pastures have dried up.
With the weather affecting bananas, this has pushed banana prices down from Shs25,000 to Shs10,000.
Farmers are worried that the price might go as low as Shs2,000 for a bunch of bananas.
In January 2020, the Minister of Education and Sports, Ms Janet Museveni, opened a pineapple juice processing factory constructed by the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations to help farmers in Rwampara, Ntungamo, and Sheema districts add value to their produce.
The factory was then handed over to Nyakihanga Fruits and Vegetable growers co-operative society Ltd for management.
However, farmers have not benefited from the plant since it has had several breakdowns, which has affected its operations.
“We had closed the factory at some point, but have now reopened it and it’s operational. We are into processing and we are buying pineapples from farmers,” Mr Nathan Mutungi, the chairperson of Itojo-Nyakihanga Fruits and Vegetables Growers Cooperative Society, says.
Currently, the government is in the process of constructing a coffee processing factory in Kazo District under Uganda Development Cooperation (UDC).
“The factory has not yet started working because we are now in the procurement process, we have allocated land where the factory will be built and we are hopeful that the construction will start soon,” Mr Nsubuga Zirimanya, the chief administrative officer, says.
He adds: “Locals are eagerly waiting for this because we want to process coffee, pack it and brand it from here which will give farmers more. For other enterprises, we are encouraging farmers to go for cottage industries which will help them to have stable prices.”