Farmers in Nwoya district are counting losses following absence of market for their cassava planted courtesy of NUSAF III (Third phase Northern Uganda Social Action Fund). ARTHUR MATSIKO visited one of the gardens where he found some members regretting time and energy they have spent on the government project they now deem wasted.
Under a big tree sits four women peeling and sun drying cassava tubers. When I ask about this activity, they refer me to their ‘boss,’ David Orach Kitara, who is about 100 metres deep inside the 20-acre cassava garden.
Orach is the chairperson for Kal Yele Mot cassava-growing group in Paduny zone, Anaka town council, Nwoya district.
Orach says district officials called for a meeting in February 2017 and asked people to form groups of 15 members. They were trained on how to grow cassava. In May 2017, Kal Yele Mot cassava-growing group was one of the 12 groups that received a Shs 17 million grant to plant 20 acres of cassava.
The money was channeled through Bank of Africa. The cassava would be ready for harvest after six months and “Nusaf officials assured us of a readily available market. “They promised they would buy an acre of mature cassava at Shs 4,000,000, Shs 750 per kilo of dry cassava, and Shs 150 per kilo of fresh cassava,” says Orach.
“After planting, however, no Nusaf III official has ever followed up. We are now stranded; we don’t know what to do because 15 members cannot eat 20 acres of cassava.” Worse still, their garden is almost two years old.
According to Daniel Opio Okumu, district councilor for Anaka town council, the intentions of the project were positive because there was rampant food insecurity in the region, most especially at household levels. He says farmers were promised that Bukona agro processors factory would buy the harvest.
Expecting the worst
After complaints from farmers, Okumu, together with district commercial officer and district community development officer, set out to establish as to whether there was any memorandum of understanding between the district and Bukona factory concerning the Nusaf III cassava project.
To their dismay, Okumu says there was no agreement. “I was trying to investigate the reason they did not make the agreement. I realized there was just a verbal agreement because the factory was still under construction,” he says.
The group treasurer, Richard Gum Pe Rom, regrets having been part of this project he believes was forced onto them. “We wonder why these people didn’t ask us what we wanted to do instead of forcing us into planting cassava which they did not have the market for,” Gum Pe Rom says.
He adds that other members are regretting the project since their energies are equally rotting away. Even the land where they planted was rented at Shs 80,000 per acre, and the owner expected to get his land back after one year. At the moment, Orach says, they would allow the landlord destroy their garden with a tractor because he needs the land for other purposes.
Government of Uganda has implemented successive development projects and programmes in the northern and northeastern parts of the country over the past two decades to address development gaps created by the effects of civil strives, insurgencies and cattle rustling.
Some of the interventions include Nusaf I, implemented with International Development Association (IDA) support from February 5, 2003 to March 31, 2009.
This was followed by Nusaf II, implemented from November 25, 2009 to August 31, 2015. Expected to close by December 31, 2020, the overall social impacts of Nusaf III are expected to be positive through extension of livelihood support to poor and vulnerable households and establishment of a framework for labour-intensive public works which will see poor households involved to enhance their income.
World Bank injected $130 million in Nusaf III. According to Richard Okello, a Nusaf III facilitator for Anaka town council, about 12 groups planted cassava in 2017, although others are still planting. He disputes the allegation that the district promised market to the farmers. “At the time they planted, Bukona factory was being constructed,” he says. “We told farmers we would link farmers to the factory, but their cassava matured before the factory was ready.”
The at least Shs 80 million each group expected from this venture remains a dream. Meanwhile, Orach calls upon Nusaf III to give them more money and allow them decide on what they should do.
But Okumu, who also works with ActionAid Uganda as an activist to ensure efficient delivery of public services, appeals to the government to find market lest farmers end up harvesting tears.
“There is need for the central government to crosscheck deeply the corruption involved in Nusaf because how can you disburse about Shs 25 billion to a district and you don’t follow it up?” Okello advises farmers to keep drying their cassava and look for markets, although prices are currently low.
For example, he says, Bukona factory buys at Shs 550 per kilo of dry cassava; whereas other buyers purchase at Shs 250 per kilo.