Fertiliser, animal vaccine mess rocks govt

A tractor and its parts that were was donated to Gulu Archdiocese for the cassava project lie idle at Acholibur Police Station in Pader District. Several tractors were delivered either without toolboxes or with significant mechanical faults and breakdowns.  PHOTOS | JESUS OKELLO OJARA. 

What you need to know:

  • In 2022/2023, the government sunk Shs115.42b into strategic interventions to boost food and animal feed security in the country. However, not all has gone as planned. 

Deliberate strategies by the government to boost food and animal feed production are the reasons why Uganda is thrashing out a deal to export at least 500,000 tonnes of maize grain to drought-stricken countries like Zambia, the Agriculture Ministry’s top accounting officer has said.

Maj Gen David Kasura-Kyomukama, the ministry’s permanent secretary (PS), told the Monitor that a hugely successful programme has led to “massive production of food crops”, with Ugandan farmers primed to reap dividends.

The latest consumer price index (CPI) released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) this week showed that annual food crops and related item inflation cooled down by -2.4 percent in April. A month ago, in March, food inflation witnessed a climbdown of -0.4 percent. The April CPI print shows that the price of foodstuffs like matooke (-11.7 percent), beans (-8.5 percent), sweet potatoes (-19.9 percent), and pumpkin (-6.5 percent) have all come down.

This is purely down to market forces, with supply outstripping demand. PS Kasura-Kyomukama now says that the government’s strategic intervention to boost food and animal feed security in the country rolled out in the Financial Year (FY) 2022/2023 could produce a win-win for both the farmers and consumers in the country.

“If the price of maize is an average of Shs800, it means the price of posho is about Shs2000 or less per kilogramme, and that means our people can afford food,” he said, adding that the farmer too can enjoy a windfall if an external market is discovered as appears to be the case with Zambia.

Internally, revealed PS Kasura-Kyomukama, NEC Agro SMC Ltd—a subsidiary of the National Enterprise Corporation—has already secured a handy market for the produce of local farmers.

“NEC, for example, is now supplying the UPDF with all the maize it requires, and one of the reasons why you are buying maize at a very low price is because speculators are no longer supplying the army, prisons, and police. Those two institutions—the police and the army—feed themselves,” PS Kasura-Kyomukama reasoned.

“We won’t allow a situation where people die of hunger. The philosophy and strategy of MAAIF [Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries], for now, are twofold: to make sure people are food-secured, and together with food security, to make sure we have income security, meaning we feed but keep enough to sell,” he added.

Blowing hot, cold

But it is not all bliss as PS Kasura-Kyomukama would want many to believe. In 2022/2023, the government sunk Shs115.42b into strategic interventions to boost food and animal feed security in the country. This followed a food and animal feed insecurity threat that was occasioned by extreme weather episodes that continue to affect most parts of the country.

The participating ministries, directorates, and authorities (MDAs) were given targets to produce corn silage, maize, soya beans, sorghum, and beans on 109,989 acres at Shs187.5b.

Despite the targets being revised downwards to 76,708 acres, the Auditor General’s (AG) latest report indicates that the MDAs failed to achieve their revised targets by 43 per cent.

“Out of 43,759 acres that were opened, only 32,428 acres were planted, resulting in a variance of 11,331 unplanted acres (26 percent) due to the expensive costs of mechanised bush clearing, which were not planned for,” AG John Muwanga disclosed, adding, “Out of the planted acreage, the government had projected to produce 63,598 tonnes of yield, but the end-of-season reports indicated that they produced 61,859 tonnes.”

AG Muwanga further revealed that the “inadequate preparedness by the entities” was typified by “the minimal engagement with the implementing agencies in setting targets and the failure to provide irrigation equipment to support the intervention during the dry season.” This, he added, affected the performance of the intervention.

Missing the target

Under its flagship agro-industrialisation programme, in August 2022, the Cabinet resolved to implement the production of food and animal feed by engaging MAAIF, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro), the Defence ministry, NEC Agro SMC Ltd, and a pack of identified private commercial farmers.

Shs363.57b was ring-fenced for the partners to undertake the production of food and animal feed on 224,650 acres. Government records show that large-scale farmers were to be funded up to Shs176.03b to plant 114,661 acres (51 percent of planned production) in season A of 2023.

“This investment was expected to yield 170 metric tonnes of maize, soya beans, sorghum, and beans,” AG Muwanga noted.

He added: “However, no funding was provided, and as such, this affected the full realisation of the objective of the intervention.” 

The report on the government’s agro-industrialisation programme also exposes how public funds worth billions were channelled to activities that yielded significantly limited impact. The audit assessed the performances of seven projects, including the management of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), a mechanisation programme, equipment, and the establishment of solar water pumping systems.

Others include the procurement and distribution of maize milling equipment by the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads), the provision of milk coolers, and the distribution of fertilisers by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA).

Foot in the mouth

In the FYs 2021/2022 and 2022/2023, MAAIF secured Shs28.3b out of the Shs33.7b it approved to procure and distribute vaccination equipment and FMD vaccines. These were for trade-sensitive cattle diseases as a preventive measure to less privileged livestock farmers. A review of the procurement and distribution of FMD veterinary medical supplies by MAAIF in the FYs 2021/2022 and 2022/2023, however, revealed critical loopholes in managing the interventions.

While it was found that MAAIF did not consider the individual needs of districts in planning and budgeting for this intervention, there were significant delays in delivering the stocks of vaccines and equipment. This also included blind supplies in which several districts that did not request the vaccines were supplied.

Uganda Coffee Development Authority Board of Directors meet with members of Loro Coffee Growers Society at a non-functional coffee processing factory in Loro Town Council Oyam District in January.  

For example, the ministry distributed 1,930,080 doses of FMD vaccines valued at Shs13.49b to 82 districts that did not request them. There were also districts that submitted individual requests for FMD vaccines and did not receive them. Others were, records show, either oversupplied or undersupplied.

According to AG Muwanga, 10 districts had insufficient and poor storage facilities for the vaccines. In some cases, vaccines were stored in ordinary fridges. Others, remarkably, shared storage with human medicine.

“Vaccines worth Shs620m were still being held in various district stores unutilised. Some of these vaccines were delivered as far back as September 2021. While 2,565,900 vaccine doses were received by MAAIF during FY2022/2023, at least 1,804,000 (70.3 percent) doses had been distributed by June 30, 2023,” the AG’s report says.

It adds: “At the time of inspection in September 2023, the unutilised 562,400 FMD doses were safely stored in the ministry cold room. The actual deliveries were delayed for a period of 41 to 240 days. Whereas 400 vaccine cool boxes were delivered on September 2, 2022, at least 141 (35 percent) had been distributed by June 30, 2023. As of September 14, 2023, two hundred and sixty nine (67 percent) cool boxes had been distributed over one year. The 131 boxes were in stores pending distribution.” 

Fertilisers mess

In reviewing the procurement and distribution of fertilisers valued at Shs9 billion in the FYs 2021/2022 and 2022/2023, the audit revealed that beneficiaries received fewer fertilisers and that a sizeable fraction of beneficiaries who got them did not apply for them. Up to 34 of the 81 farmers received fertilisers, albeit despite not expressing interest or demand for the fertilisers. This, the audit shows, deprived farmers who genuinely needed the fertilisers.

There were also glaring disparities between the quantities of fertilisers distributed as per UCDA records and the actual quantities received by 23 of the 81 farmers.

The inconsistencies cast doubt, AG Muwanga said, on whether all the distributed fertilisers were received by the intended beneficiaries.

Three years ago, UCDA embarked on a coffee rehabilitation programme aimed at stumping old coffee trees and applying fertilisers to enhance productivity. Saturday Monitor has established that the decision was informed by a June 2020 study that indicated coffee productivity was on the decline across the country. Most coffee trees were deemed to have outlived their efficiency.

A study had revealed that 53 percent of the coffee trees in Uganda were eight years and older.

Elsewhere, nearly 35 percent of the trees were aged between three and seven years. The average productivity of old trees was found to be 1.3kg per tree for trees aged eight to 11 years and 1.0kg per tree for trees aged above 12 years. 

The fertilisers were distributed in Mbale, Budaka, Iganga, Namutumba, Butambala, Nakaseke, Nakasongola, Mityana, Jinja, and Manafwa districts.

Supply bottlenecks

During the FYs 2021/2022 and 2022/2023, under the programme’s mechanisation component, MAAIF contracted multiple suppliers to supply 1,077 mechanisation equipment valued at Shs100.53b. The process was, however, reportedly blighted by severe delays, maintenance challenges, and equipment redundancy.

The procurements for 14 heavy earth-moving equipment valued at Shs17.8b experienced an average delay of 132 days, with some deliveries delaying up to 202 days. The AG also discovered that six tractors worth Shs770m were grounded due to maintenance challenges.

Heavy equipment worth Shs10.58b was procured and registered with private number plates, and 35 tractors worth Shs2.3 billion were distributed by the ministry to farmers without number plates. This created suspicion that they likely went into individuals’ hands.

Several challenges were faced by beneficiary farmers due to the lack of technical guidance. It didn’t help matters that tractors were delivered either without toolboxes or with significant mechanical faults and breakdowns. The audit also indicated that the supplier failed to contact some of the farmers with the views of servicing the tractors despite such equipment being under warranty.

Naads debacle

In the same period (2021/2022 and 2022/2023), Naads dispensed Shs42.8b to procure and distribute farm machinery, value addition, and agro-processing facilities. Empirical evidence indicates that it distributed the wrong equipment to farmers. In fact, in some areas, Naads reportedly dumped agro-processing facilities for farmers in areas that lacked electricity.

This publication also established that seven pieces of maize milling equipment valued at Shs568m were procured and delivered to the beneficiaries without adequate assessment of their technical and financial capacity, resulting in a failure by the beneficiaries to maintain them.

In Kiryandongo District, we established that a beneficiary group that received semi-automated mini-maize milling equipment worth Shs170m faced electricity challenges.

Elsewhere, four maize milling equipment worth Shs250m had not yet been delivered to the beneficiaries by September 2023, despite the expected delivery date of June 1, 2023.

Up to 15 maize mills supplied across the country were not in use for several reasons. To be specific, four maize mills worth Shs266m lacked three-phase power connectivity. The structures for five other mills valued at Shs338m were incomplete. To compound matters, all 15 beneficiaries (groups) had not been trained on how to operate the mills.

The AG established that three beneficiary groups were not utilising the 3000-litre capacity milk coolers and 20KVA matching generators worth Shs740m and that another lot of 25 milk coolers valued at Shs5 billion had not been delivered by September 2023.

Meanwhile, a beneficiary in Nakibaale, Kabarole District, could not run the milk cooler because milk collection was too low at only 130 litres per day. Elsewhere, a supplier of 25 milk coolers could not deliver in time following a failure to correct defects for the 3000-litre capacity milk coolers with matching 20KVA diesel generator sets.

Naads carried out the supply of milk coolers and matching of generator sets.

About the intervention

The government seeks to turn agriculture into a sustainable commercial sector for farmers through agro-industrialisation by transforming agricultural raw materials into higher-value products. Through the programme, the government has also invested huge amounts of money to prioritise mechanisation to ensure production volumes are adequate to sustain industries. 

Of the programme’s FY 2022/2023 estimated budget of Shs1.450 trillion, it is established that Shs563b was released and Shs431b had been spent by December 2022. 

The country’s agricultural production continues to face challenges such as low agricultural production and productivity. Other hurdles are poor storage infrastructure and post-harvest management, low-value addition, poor market access and low competitiveness of agro-based products in domestic, regional, continental, and international markets, and limited access to agricultural financial services and critical inputs. 

The agro-industrialisation programme is one of the 18 programmes of the National Development Programme (NDP III) that targets to increase the commercialisation and competitiveness of agricultural production and agro-processing. 

In the FY2023/2024 Budget Framework paper, the government, through the programme, targeted reducing agricultural post-harvest losses to 18 percent from 37 percent in FY2017/2018. It also set out to increase the value of agricultural exports to $2.2 billion.

The programme intends to grow agricultural manufacturing value by 9.6 percent and boost agricultural production by 20 percent within the same period.

In the case of agricultural extension provision under the production and productivity sub-programme, the programme targets to increase the adoption of improved agricultural technologies by 10.2 percent by FY2023/2024 and increase access to agricultural extension services by 22.4 percent, among others.