West Nile searches for economic soul in PDM

Mr Isaac Ayikoa, 55, weeds his cassava garden in Katrini Sub-county, Maracha District, on Sunday. He has been selected among those who will benefit from the PDM programme. PHOTO | CLEMENT ALUMA

What you need to know:

  • The Parish Development Model (PDM) is a government programme that aims at lifting more than three million peasant households into the money economy. Under its blueprint, money will be sent to parishes, and beneficiaries formed into groups to choose the most profitable enterprises. In this final instalment of our series, PDM and making money, our reporters Felix Warom Okello & Clement Aluma, did a round-up of how West Nile is preparing to engage in food production once the model is implemented. 

For long, West Nile farmers have continued growing the traditional tobacco, but the crop has not got them out of poverty.

Tobacco is the chief cash crop, especially in Arua and Koboko districts, and farmers cherish it due to its ready market, but it is linked with poverty. The crop has also met resistance from health rights activists, who have decampaigned it on health grounds. Health rights organisations say tobacco is a health hazard and environmentally unfriendly. Big tobacco companies have also been accused of exploiting farmers by paying them peanuts while middlemen have bought tobacco cheaply from farmers and sold it expensively, making huge profits at the farmers’ expense.

Farmers hoping to benefit from the government’s much hyped Parish Development Model (PDM) are considering prioritising other enterprises and shunning their traditional crop.

Mr Isaac Ayikoa, 55, a farmer and resident of Wandi Trading Centre, Onzoro Parish, Katrini Sub-county is one of them. He testified that for the last 12 years, he has depended on tobacco as his sole source of income and he hasn’t registered much progress.  Mr Ayikoa was inspired by his father to grow tobacco.

“I earn about Shs1 million from one acre of my tobacco garden annually yet I could spend more than Shs1.6 million from the time of planting to harvesting,” he said.

Mr Ayikoa names the other challenge as some companies that take their tobacco on credit and delay payments.

“Following up on this money is too draining. With such experiences, I find tobacco growing time wasting and a big loss to the farmers,” he said.

Mr Ayikoa is among the farmers being trained to switch to other viable enterprises under the PDM arrangement.

He is now looking at growing cassava, soya beans and sunflower as annual crops that can bring him some quick cash and is excited that soya beans have been listed on the enterprises to be rolled out. “For all the last 12 years, I have been operating under losses because it is a costly venture to grow tobacco. Though the prices for sunflower are low, we are consoled by the fact that it can be grown twice in a year and it is not labour intensive like tobacco,” Mr Ayikoa added.

He has been registered under Wandi Young Growers Group. 

“We are currently being trained on new enterprises such as soya beans and sunflower growing. Hopefully, when we receive this money and skills through training, I will use it to rent more land for cultivation to increase production,” he said. 

Once he gets the money, he plans to grow both sunflower and Soyabeans on his three-acre land and rent two more acres. This, he said, can enable him to plan to build a modest permanent house and pay school fees from the profits he would reap from the crops.

Ubos findings

According to the August 2021 report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) August 2021, tobacco growing in the area has been linked with poverty.

The report puts the West Nile poverty rate at 5.2 percent of the about three million people. This is because many of them cannot earn a dollar a day, farmers still use rudimentary tools for farming, and have low levels of education and income levels, among others.

The government, in the next financial year, has provided a total of Shs1.059 trillion for full implementation of the PDM. 

According to the government, each of the 10,594 parishes will receive Shs100 million as a revolving fund, earmarked for purchase of agricultural inputs by households still in subsistence.

“I think PDM is good if well implemented because their terms are good and friendly. The training on value chain, market linkage and storage will help farmers boost their farming as a business,” Mr Ayikoa said.

More than 100 tobacco farmers in Terego District last year protested over failure by Continental Tobacco Company to pay them Shs8.7b in arrears. The farmers have been demanding the money from a tobacco company since 2018. More than 1,500 tobacco farmers across West Nile districts of Arua, Maracha, Terego, and Koboko, who sold their tobacco to the company in 2018, have been demanding the money in vain.

The company has since left the area, making it difficult for the farmers to make a follow up.

In 2019, West Nile Cooperative Union, however, signed a 30-year agreement with Glovage Company managed by Joadah Consults to support tobacco farmers with Oil Seeds, soya beans and sorghum, among others.  This, according to the agreement, is to enable farmers to improve their livelihood through increased food production to help households fight poverty.

Another ardent tobacco farmer, Mr Christopher Adia, from Inve society in Maracha, however, attributes his successes to tobacco growing.

“The challenge, however, is land fragmentation,” he said. Other enterprises will require vast land.  

Though Adia has not been picked for PDM, he called for transparency during implementation of the programme. 

 The introduction of PDM, according to Mr Moses Etukibo, the chairperson of West Nile Cooperative Union, would strengthen this 30-year agreement.

“We think PDM will supplement our efforts of farmers shifting to growing sim-sim, sorghum, soya beans and sunflower. This will help some farmers to move out of poverty. But we encourage them to do bulking so that their products are bought at good prices,” Mr Etukibo said.

He said tobacco has led to depletion of the environment for more than 40 years of intensive growing and it is time for farmers to engage in food crops.

“Even if half of our 20,000 registered farmers under the West Nile Cooperative Union are supported through PDM, poverty would reduce. The adverts against tobacco are everywhere on televisions, radio stations, newspapers, and community meetings.  In 2010, Arua Rural Community Development said they registered about 500 tobacco farmers who had abandoned the crop for Chili production. To date, some of them have continued with its production that has brought in better yields.

The campaigns against tobacco have since forced some of the companies such as British American Tobacco (BAT) and Alliance One to vacate the region since they were making losses. For instance, in 2009, BAT made loses of Shs2.4 billion, in 2010 they lost Shs2.2 billion, 2011 (Shs445 million) and 2012 (Shs642 million). This left the tobacco farmers free to engage in any enterprise, which could be a plus for inclusion in PDM enterprises.

Transparency

The MP for Terego East, who is also the State Minister in charge Urban Development, Mr Mario Obiga Kania, said West Nile locals had invested more money in tobacco and cotton growing.

“The PDM money must, therefore, be distributed in a transparent manner. We need local leaders to sensitise the people about the viable enterprises. The President has already done his part,” Mr Kania said.

He encouraged farmers in Terego to engage in watermelon farming because it can fetch more money.

“I see Terego farmers concentrating on growing watermelon. From one acre, one can get 1,000 watermelons. Of which, each watermelon costs Shs5,000. And you can get Shs5 million in three months. This can lift you out of poverty,” Mr Kania said.

According to the PDM guideline, there will be dedicated efforts and investments in the organisation and coordination of farmers at parish level and other value chain actors through area-based commodity clusters to increase production and productivity that will create sustainable agricultural production.

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