Farmers in the northern districts of Arua, Apac, Alebtong, Dokolo, Gulu and Oyam continue to pour cold water over the government’s household poverty eradication initiative, Operation Wealth Creation (OWC).
Only last week, the agriculture committee of parliament was told during a fact-finding tour of West Nile that seeds supplied by OWC are of such lousy quality, they simply do not germinate.
Now, district coordinators in the middle north, say that OWC has fallen far short of its twin objectives, which include strategic intervention and streamlining of marketing structures. Previously under the National Agricultural Advisory services (Naads), OWC was handed over to the army in 2013 amidst criticism of Naads by officials, including President Museveni.
Proper planting and stocking material, value addition, small scale irrigation, tractorisation, establishment of farmer cooperatives and post-harvest handling were the stated goals of this initiative.
Instead, from late provision of seeds through a highly corrupt process, to the dumping of poor quality seeds in some districts, farmers in the named districts find themselves struggling. They are stuck with rotting produce due to lack of market.
Nelson Adea Akar, a farmer and district chairman for Oyam could not hide his disappointment last Friday, November 17. Akar spoke about his district’s predicament during a presentation of field monitoring findings from the six districts at Boma Hotel in Gulu.
“Despite all the challenges involved, I together with my people are stuck with produce because there is no market. My people are running to me asking for market,” Akar said about ginger and citrus fruits lying unsold in storage.
Akar has approached various beverage companies in an attempt to market his community’s produce. But they told him the same thing: farmers must first add value; by processing the fruit, because they buy fruit concentrate not the actual fruits.
“Many people have oranges that are rotting in their compounds; children have eaten, we have squeezed juice, we have given them out freely but we are still stuck with fruits that are falling off the trees every day,” lamented Akar.
“We hear that the juice factory in Soroti is short of fruits to process. Why doesn’t government consider selling our fruits to them?” Akar wondered.
Oyam district suspended the supply of citrus, mangoes and coffee seeds during the last planting season. Akar says that in the coming season, he and his people will concentrate on planting coffee.
“We shall not be coerced into growing crops that have no market yet perish very fast,” he said.
Dr Charles Otak, another farmer and district chairman for Lira district agreed that OWC is failing. It will neither deliver the 2020 goal of eradicating poverty nor lead Uganda into middle income status.
“This project is failing largely because everything is just a duplication of past failed projects. There is need to change the personnel and strategy,” said Otak.
People’s lives remain unchanged ever since this project was started, Otak noted.
“People should not look at it as if government is imposing these projects on them but rather as their own initiative,” said Otak.
Vincent Tumusiime Bamugaya, the acting director at the directorate of economic affairs and research (DEAR) in the President’s Office has an explanation for Otak’s conclusion. His directorate monitors OWC and he noted that former Naads staff are compromising work.
“You don’t cure a disease by shifting goal posts,” Bamugaya said.
He added that the procurement process should follow farmers’ needs. Bamugaya also proposes that procurement of inputs should be decentralised to the districts so that local groups, guided by their leaders and representatives, buy what they want.
“To bring inputs from Kampala and dump them in the districts is just a waste of government money,” said Bamugaya.
Lt Gen. Charles Angina, the deputy coordinator OWC, however, maintains that the project is a great initiative. Angina has no doubt that it will deliver on the president’s vision for it; liberating Uganda’s 6.2 million households from poverty.
“We shall deal with the corrupt officials and the perception of those who believe that they should remain traditional even when they know that for all these years it has not made a change in their lives,” said Angina.
Angina also called for a clear demarcation of roles. Until now, he said, OWC which has always borne the cross of poor procurement yet OWC neither buys the supplies nor handles contracts. “Remember, we came in after so many of these initiatives had failed. We shall not fail the president on this issue,” Angina said.