By Javier Silas Omagor email@example.com
Free spending Cross – border produce buyers from the neighboring Kenya have out priced local farmer’s cooperative societies and Unions in the Eastern sub region, especially in Bugisu and Sebei.
The Kenyan buyers usually access Sebie and Bugisu sub regions through Busia entry terminal while others use porous borders to enter into Uganda, on arrival they immediately find their way to farms and communities sometimes with the help of the middlemen.
At Together Agree and Build Unity Integrated Cooperative Society Limited – TAABU ICSL, based in Buyaga Town Council in Bulambuli county, Bulambuli district, Harriet Namataka, the business manager says that there must be a swift intervention to combat the practice.
“These illegal Kenyan produce dealers usually arm themselves with lots of cash, weighing scales, translators and big trucks before descending on our unsuspecting farmers.” Namataka said in an exclusive interview.
Namataka explains that despite the technical and financial support they render to farmers, in the course of the year, during the harvest and post-harvest period, Kenyan farmers invade the region and convince farmers to sell to them instead.
“When these Kenyans enter into the country, they intentionally shoot – up the commodity buying prices so as to outprice us – the Ugandan cooperatives.” Namataka said.
Fore-instance, maize is apparently being bought by TAABU cooperative at UGX. 1,000 per kilogram but the Kenyans and middlemen are buying it between UGX. 1,500 – 2,000 per kilogram.
TAABU Integrated Cooperative Society has set itself as a model in Bulambuli and Sironko districts, meaning that their 2,518 registered farmers should be bulking and selling to them but that is not the case when the cross – border buyers come into the area.
Florence Gibutayi, the chairperson TAABU ICSL, is worried that if government does not intervene to fight illegal cross – border produce dealers, Bugisu and Sebie will be deliberately turned into food crisis regions. These two regions which neighbor Kenya are largely seen as some of the most reliable food baskets in Uganda.
“They (Kenyans) go straight to gardens and farmers doors to buy raw produce, before loading it to their awaiting trucks, which later drive into Kenya. The problem is at the end of the day we cooperators have to pay taxes to URA (Uganda Revenue Authority) yet these dealers don’t” Mrs. Gibutayi said.
Grains such as maize, soya beans, Irish potatoes, beans, sun flower, coffee and bananas among others are the most sought-after produce by the cross – border traders in question.
TAABU cooperative chairperson warns that the hunger breakout of 1995 might repeat itself if the backstops are not established by relevant authorities in Uganda.
The EAC Common Market Protocol The East African Community (EAC) an intergovernmental trade organization composed of six countries in the African Great Lakes region in eastern Africa including; Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Regional trade integration is a cornerstone of EAC Partner States’ trade policies whereby access free trading within the member states is highly encouraged.
EAC Partner States signed the Protocol in November 2009, and it came into force on 1 July 2010. The Common Market is the first of its kind in Africa.
Therefore, the EAC progressively transformed into a single market that allows for free movement of goods, persons, services, labour and capital while guaranteeing rights to residence and establishment.
However, according to a section of farmers in Uganda, though Kenyans enjoy the provisions of this treaty to the latter, Ugandans are not allowed to access Kenyan side within documentations and disabling restrictions.
“There is no fair deal et all in this EAC common market protocol thing, how come only one side is allowed to access out land, move with hard cash, penetrate villages and buy as much as the wish from our ignorant farmers?” questioned Issa Yusuf Kamonges, the chairman Kaserem Area Cooperative, in Kapchorwa district, Sebei area.
On a macro level, Bugisu farmers alone are tricked to sell over 200 tonnages of produce to Kenyan traders on average, which is three times bigger than the sub region bulks into its cooperatives’ warehouses or silos on daily basis, this is according to Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the Chairperson Bugisu Cooperative Union – BCU.
According to Nandala, the Kenyan produce dealers are hiding behind the East African Community trade treaty to exploit Ugandan farmers.
“Though the idea of allowing our traders the East African community regional space to conduct their businesses was a perfect; cheaper, faster and simpler especially because we (Uganda) are a landlocked country but some traders from other countries within EAC are now taking advantage of others and in the process manipulating them.” Nandala told our reporter on phone.
Normally, Raw Produce Organizations – RPOs and Produce Organizations – POs such as TAABU are supposed to sell or bulk (store) their produce at respective parent cooperatives which in return carry out cost – based analysis, marketing and also conduct capacity building activities.
Steven Masika, a seasoned lecturer at Makerere University reasons that for any cooperative, produce warehouse or a silo to run normally and consistently, it must be at the receiving end of her farmers’ robust support.
However, an interview with a section of farmers in Bulambuli and Sironko revealed that farmers see the Kenyan buyers as the best choice comparing with their cooperatives.
Most of them said that apart from a good bargain, they find it quicker and time saving to transact with the Kenyans compared to their own cooperatives where they are annual subscribers.
“If am going through an emergency, for example, school fees or a medical situation which require urgent money, I will not take produce to the cooperative because there is not ready money their as opposed to these Kenyan buyers.” Fred Wandeba, a member at TAABU Cooperative.
From Mbale, Sam Wanyoro, a member at Masaba Cooperative Union – MCU, admits that the Kenyan buyers are offering them with a faster and reliable choice when in urgent need of money but will end up delivering a food tyranny to Bugisu and Uganda at large.
Hajji Yusuf Muhamud Mudondo the general manager at Kaserem Area Cooperative – KACE wants a quick solution to be provide without which their cooperative which has signed a deal to supply World Food Program – WFP and Operation Wealth Creation – OWC with grains, might soon be losing such lucrative contracts.
Started in 2005, the member based, Kaserem Area Cooperative has up to 2,289 with 1,000 of them being youths and the number of women currently standing at 668 while persons living with disabilities -PWDs are 38, the managers worry that if nothing is done to combat cross – border interference, such subscribers and their families are at a risk.
“If authorities choose to just watch as things worsen, then government’s recent effort of reviving and strengthening cooperatives will be a waste of resources, and yet these cooperatives have helped improve livelihoods.” Said Hajji Mudondo.
Samuel Sijaona, a Kenyan produce dealer admitted to buying goods from Ugandan farmers but reasoned that other middlemen from within Uganda were also involved in this practice.
The Ray of Hope Fortunately for the cooperatives and concerned farmers of Bugisu sub region, TechnoServe Uganda, a nonprofit making organization in partnership with the Uganda Cooperative Alliances – UCA have intervened.
The two are apparently implementing a four and a half year Feed the Future (FtF) – Producer Organizations Activity (POA in 12 districts of Uganda.
The USAID funded Feed the Future Uganda Producer Organizations Activity seeks to strengthen the governance, management and service delivery capacity of producer organizations (POs) to realize durable and enduring institutions that are able to plan, mobilize resources, and deliver services that meet the evolving needs of their members in a rapidly changing competitive environment.
TechnoServe Uganda who develop business solutions to poverty by linking people to information, capital and markets are since the beginning of this month (August) organizing farmers training and community barazas so as to address the issue.
In the trainings, TechnoServe encourage farmers to build their own capacity and champion community driven solutions towards their challenges including cross – border interferences.
Enid Majorie Namula, the Business Development Services Coordinator for Eastern Uganda at TechnoServe says farmers themselves must provide a solution to the prevailing problem they are faced with.
“What we want to do is to empower them (farmers) to realize that they have the potential to influence solutions for any kind of challenge they are faced with, be it internally or externally.” Said Namula.
TechnoServe and UCA have so far helped Bugisu Cooperatives societies and Unions form a Farmers’ Forum which will be dialoguing at district level occasionally.
“They will need bylaws and ordinances to be able to stamp – out the middlemen and those Kenyan traders through dialoguing with other stakeholders at sub county, county, district and regional levels. We expect them to continue using this forum to address their problems before their local leaders.”
In a bid to arrest the problem from its source, TechnoServe have also gone ahead to help form Busia- Kenya farmers and Produce traders association at the Uganda- Kenya border which they hope will be instrumental in bridging the gap.
“Through Busia-Kenya farmers and produce traders, we are convinced that these issues can be streamlined and addressed for good soon rather than later.” Namula said.
Meanwhile, for a section of Bugisu farmers, the best way to ensure that the agriculture sector is well – managed across the country, government should consider creating a slot for a special farmers member of parliament.
They claim that just like the other special groups such as Persons with Disabilities, Youths, Workers, UPDF and others, farmers should also be represented in parliament so as improve the quality of advocacy and legislature towards the sector dubbed the backbone of Uganda.
“We farmers should also have a privilege of voting in our own MPs preferably at regional level, so that whenever we have issues as a sector such as this cross – border interferences, we voice it through our farmers’ MPs.” Farmers led by Esther Kakai, urged.
Kakai demands that government considers agriculture as the most reliable vehicle of sustainable development Uganda still has and that must be guarded jealously.
“If our economy is 80% based on Agriculture, the we surely need to ensure that there is dedicated prioritization towards this great sector.” Said Kakai, a soya beans and maize commercial farmer in Bulambuli district.
But the idea of pushing government to introduce a special farmers Parliamentary representative is not a wholly welcome, some cooperators urge that it will not yield any tangible results.
Munibu Kitiyo, the assistant manager production and marketing at KACE, urges that fellow cooperators should be advocating for adequate funding from government so that like cross- border farmers, Uganda cooperatives have ready cash to enable them buy from farmers – making it pointless for Kenyans to drive in.
“The main reason farmers prefer selling to Kenyans and even middlemen from within to transacting with us cooperatives, is because we do not have instant cash, so, government should support us in that aspect.” Kitiyo said.