By Hasifah Namuli
The people of Northern Uganda lived in internally displaced camps for two decades and depended on food aid and other relief emergencies for their livelihoods due to the insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the 90s and early 2000s.
They seem to have picked up their pieces now and moved on, Northern Uganda is on a path to self re-discovery even potentially blossoming in to one of Uganda’s most productive regions thanks to farming specifically vegetable oil production.
President Yoweri Museveni has over the years reiterated that what Uganda needs now is to boost her agricultural sector by adding full value to her produce through agricultural mechanization and industrialization.
Now, the government through the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) earlier this year embarked on promoting the production of oil crops specifically sunflower and soya beans through mobilizing farmers in Acholi and Lango sub-regions in Northern Uganda in its import substitution strategy.
NAADS head of communication and public relations Khadija Nakakande said they are shifting from food security to supporting large-scale farmers to improve their income and exports.
“ Government has taken note of the shortage of vegetable oils not only in Uganda, but the entire world, due to distractions in the supply chain of vegetable oil because of the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia and thus decided to produce more oil crops to reduce the prices of vegetable oil in the market. Before the initiative a litre vegetable cost UGX 3,500 but rose to UGX 10,000 in a matter of weeks but is now dropping. Currently, it is costing UGX 6000,” she said.
According to NAADS, only 20 per cent of the national vegetable oil consumption in Uganda which is 480 million metric tons annually is produced locally. The aim of the intervention is to produce at least 40 million metric tons of oil per year locally. The government released UGX 9 billion this year alone to NAADS to promote the production of these seed oil crops.
Lango and Acholi sub regions were chosen because they already have high production of sun flower. The NAADS distributed 75 metric tons of sunflower and 500 metric tons of soya bean, to be planted on 37,000 acres of land, to 22 cooperative societies in the two sub regions.
Nakakande said they are distributing the seeds to farmers on cost-sharing basis, where they pay 70% and the farmer pays 30%. Under this arrangement, they signed a memorandum of understanding with the large-scale farmers and co-operatives, where the groups committed themselves to recover 30% of the cost of these seeds at the end of the season. The seeds are an improved variety imported from South Africa.
She explained that in the previous projects, they had been giving seeds and seedlings for free to farmers, but realized that most of them did not plant it. This strategy, she says is “now working miracles”.
Under this program, 48 large scale farmers were drawn majorly from Nwoya in Acholi sub region and 22 cooperatives were identified and supplied with seeds to implement the project which not only helped the government to scale up edible oil production but also translated in to economic growth for populations in Northern Uganda.
Nine companies were identified to distribute the seeds including Mukwano, Ngetta tropical holdings, Savanna seeds, united seeds, Equator seeds among others.
While launching the project at the Nwoya district headquarters, where 17 large-scale farmers picked the seeds, the NAADS manager and head of technical agribusiness services Dr Christopher Bukenya said the government-led project targeted farmers, who do farming on 50 hectares of land and above and have been engaging in growing the two oil crops.
“We are doing import substitution to be self-sustaining in the production of oil crops in our country. These crops are not being produced for the first time; we already have a private sector initiative, especially in Acholi and Lango regions. Mukwano, Mt. Meru and Ngetta holding have also been leading firms and companies promoting the production of oil crops, as well as milling or extracting oil and animal feeds,” he explained.
In Lango sub region, the oil seeds were distributed to cooperative societies including Alito Joint Multipurpose Cooperative in Kole, Okwang Farmers’ Cooperative in Otuke, and Lira Diocese Multipurpose Cooperative Sacco in Lira among others.
Amatheon Agri Uganda in Nwoya district is perhaps one of the largest beneficiary farms of the project having received 2000 Kgs of sunflower seeds which they planted on 750 acres and 54000Kgs of soya bean which they planted on 1700 acres.
Their general manager, Prosper Maphosa says, this was their first attempt at sunflower on a large scale as they normally grow simsim. “Sunflower is a resilient crop that fights on its own yet it matures very fast. The returns have been overwhelming, so far so good, we invested about 120 million in the seeds, labor and soil preparations out of which we have profited 500 million shillings for just a single season, almost five times more of the initial investment is not just a good start but the best we’ve had” he says.
Susan Atoo is one of the vibrant sunflower farmers in Oyam district. She subscribes to the Abricam farmers cooperative under which she was able to access improved sunflower seeds from the government. She has also accessed the ready market from Mukwano and other oil companies through the cooperative. She was given 50 Kgs of sunflower seeds and planted on 20 acres of land which she had hired. From that, she reaped over 20 tones. “I invested about seven million shillings out of which I profited over 23 million shillings from which I was able to secure the land and also cater for my family’s other basic need,” Atoo explains.
However, Anthony Badru Ocen, the General Manager of Nyekorac Farmers’ Cooperative Society in Ogur sub county , Lira district says despite the many benefits they have reaped from this program, he wishes that government would consider investing more money into the cooperatives instead of providing seeds because many of their farmers have already planted other oil seeds such as sim sim which seems very lucrative.
Uganda is the fifth largest producer of sesame (simsim) in the world and the second largest in Africa. It is estimated that the annual production is 170,000 metric tons.
Ocen says the low productivity of simsim oil is mainly attributed to low levels of mechanization that make it hard to produce at a commercial level. “Also threshing and drying seeds on bare ground mixes in the soil, which makes it difficult to separate as the seeds are very small. This leads to low quality and losses as buyers do not want to buy such produce,” he stresses, thus calling on government to support them with machines and equipment that would improve the quality of simsim.
“We grow simsim in two seasons, that is March-April and August-September and if we have all the necessary production equipment, I assure you, we would reap even more as compared to soya bean,” Ocen explains, adding that with simsim for a good season he can make about 30 million shillings on his 10 acre piece of land with an input of just 5 -7 million shillings yet with Soya bean, he can only profit around 10 to 15 million shillings and yet it’s production process is labor intensive.
Denis Ogwok, the secretary at Wiiodyek Oil Seed Farmers’ Cooperative on the other hand says government should have distributed only sunflower instead of soya beans saying climatic changes are now affecting productivity of soya beans.
“The challenge we face now is that soya bean slows us down due to its prolonged maturity period of up to 5 months while sunflowers have a rapid growth rate, reaching between 70 to 120 days after planting, provided they receive proper growing conditions,” Ogwok adds.
Meanwhile Fredrick Doi, the Regional Manager at Uganda Oil Seed Producer and Processors, expressed discomfort over how cooperatives were being exploited by other multinational agents who had access to loans and large markets.
“Our small cooperatives and individual farmers are faced with a challenge of unfair competition from these multinational agents who even dictate the market price often time exploiting our farmers who end up with almost nothing after putting in all the hard work,” he lamented.
The leaders of some of the cooperative societies in Otuke including Olwit John Bosco Dagama of Patwala Oil seed producers, and Obua Joel of Okwang cooperative society accused Otuke county MP, Paul Omara who is the proprietor of Ngetta tropical holdings of sidelining other farmers by recruiting 26 people who campaigned for him in the last election to benefit from the project.
Although Omara in his defense said he was among the people who lobbied for this project, adding that such allegations would jeopardize their future lobbying capacity, Dagama cited political interference and corrupt leaders as one of the main challenges hindering the project’s success.
With beneficiaries being required to remit 30% of the seeds distributed to them after harvest, Atoo said that this was quiet a setback on what she had hoped to reap but is grateful that she was one of those considered to be part of this pioneer project.”I understood that I had to give other farmers an opportunity like the one I got because honestly sunflower is an easy crop that can fight on its own and doesn’t need much in put,” she explains.
Dr. Charles Aben, the in charge Crop Development at NAADS Secretariat, says they are now in the process of procuring machines for the farmers who are being encouraged to process their produce for value addition so as to reap even bigger because most of them still sell their produce as raw materials to the oil companies.
According to Doi, local producers must now step up their efforts to ensure that they are not pushed out of business by the multinational agents. “Those who know that they are not competent enough to run the cooperatives should agree and step down and allow capable people to take charge so that we take charge of our economy,” he said.
He called on cooperatives to invest more on farm mechanization to promote production efficiency but also implored government to avail the machine as earlier promised to enable them realize their full potential.