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Dilemma as food prices crash

A trader stuck with several trays of eggs

A trader stuck with several trays of eggs

While there is projection of increased demand for food after coronavirus crisis, depressed prices at the moment due to low demand have put farmers in a catch-22 situation. Many cannot keep their food for extended period, write ALON MWESIGWA. 

A scene from Zakariya plaza in Kalerwe is one of pity. A pickup truck loaded with tens of trays of eggs is attracting just stares from passersby. On the ground flour of the building, a shop is filled with trays of eggs, also covering the bigger part of the verandah.

An announcement on public microphone declaring “tray of eggs for Shs 7,000” attracts no interest. This is a drop from the Shs 10,000 a tray in pre- lockdown days. Just a distance away, two trucks full of Matooke have just arrived from upcountry. Each bunch is being sold at Shs 10,000 down from Shs 25,000 pre-lockdown days.

Such is the story of food market during the coronavirus crisis – and by extension misery to the farmers.

“It is chaos. No one is buying,” says Hamza Kiyinza atop one of the Matooke trucks.

Even as food markets were declared essential and therefore spared closure, their critical component that keeps them running normally had been disrupted.

That is the demand from different entities, including hotels, schools, roadside rolex (chapati rolled into eggs) makers, and even household’s ability to freely move to the market to buy food was interrupted with.

All hotels have been closed for more than a month now. Bakeries which take a lot of eggs are producing below capacity as demand for bread has fallen.

Because millions of people who went to work daily in different urban areas are staying at home, it means smaller restaurants, which constituted sizeable demand for food daily, are not working. Michael Ssali, a farmer from Masaka, says while they have no problem with non-perishables like coffee, which can be kept for when normalcy returns, they have had no options for things like bananas, tomatoes that go bad quickly.

He says at his farm, managed by wife, middlemen buying their bananas are paying between Shs 3,000 and Shs 7,000 for a big bunch that went for Shs 15,000 before the lockdown.

“We just give them,” he says. “Because we can’t keep all here.”

The story rhymes with that of Disan Muwanga, a prominent farmer in Masaka. He says he is selling his bananas for a cheap. He has, however, found a solution for the maize. He says instead of selling a kilogram of maize at about Shs 500, he has decided to make flour and sell each kilogram at Shs 2,500 or more. There are those with no capacity like Muwanga’s.

In Kampala Kisenyi, sellers of eggs say they have to first get an order from a client before they can also order from the farmers. Sumaya Nakibuuka, a seller of eggs in Kisenyi, said their main customers were Kenyans but now they fear to come to Uganda and Ugandans fear to go to Kenya. This means no one is buying the eggs.

Nakibuuka said that while she stocked up to 2,000 trays per week and were bought before the coronavirus crisis, she now only stocks below 500 and they stay.

In Bwaise, owners of dairies selling unprocessed milk, have employed public speakers to call on buyers of milk with limited success. A litre of milk is below Shs 1,000 from Shs 2,000 before the lockdown. External markets like Kenya, South Sudan, and DRC have been disrupted as their own people are also in lockdown and demand for everything is near zero.

President Yoweri Museveni said in a recent address that farmers can be more creative and make lasting products out of their food. For instance, he said, poultry farmers can market mayonnaise from their eggs while milk producers can make cheese. Very few farmers can take these choices, opined an analyst.

Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) leadership has implored poultry farmers to get in touch with Reco Industries to help them convert their eggs into powder or lysozome.

“This increases Shelf life to 2yrs. Lysozome is also used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical,” UMA said. But this can only take enough.

The low prices for the farmers mean some might have less money to invest back in their farms. This can lead to food strain in the coming days, according to analysts.

Dr Ezra Munyambonera, a research fellow at the Economic Policy Research Centre, said even in the lockdown, farmers must be helped to continue farming.

He said food demand after lockdown has been lifted will be hard to fill. He said the demand will not just be local but also from the regional. Munyambonera says government should help farmers to access extension workers even during the lockdown.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned about 265 million people around the world are forecast to be facing acute food insecurity by the end of this year.

Harsh weather conditions, including floods, also put serious questions on farmers ability to push ahead with production for the after-crisis period. At the moment, food producers can only pray the lockdown is lifted as soon as possible to boost demand for their produce – the future market projection is a concern for the next day.


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