Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: Kenyan Buyers Outprice, Frustrate Coops, Farmer Unions In Eastern Uganda

By: Javier Silas Omagor                                                                                                     

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, grain crushers, sorters 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.

Like TAABU, most farmer cooperatives always support their members with skills, capacity building trainings, interest free loans, pesticides, fertilizers and storage as well.

“Cooperatives like us spend a lot of resources empowering our farming communities but 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, soybeans, Irish potatoes, beans, sun flower and coffee among others are the most sought-after produce by the cross – border traders in question.

TAABU cooperative chairperson warns that the hunger out – break of 1995 might repeat itself if the effective regulations 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; BurundiKenyaRwandaSouth SudanTanzania, 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, labor 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 coupled with dozens of disabling restrictions.

On August 20, this year, Parliament tasked government to explain the continuous arrest and mistreatment of Ugandan farmers trying to sell their sugar cane in Kenya.

Bugabula South Member of Parliament Maurice Henry Kibalya, raised this concern on the floor of the House. According to the MP, the arrested and mistreated farmers had sought a market in Kenya in desperation after sugar manufacturers in Uganda failed to buy their cane.

“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 20, 000 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, a few bad Kenyan produce dealers are hiding behind the East African Community trade treaty to exploit Ugandan farmers.

“Though the idea of allowing our traders access to the East African community regional space to conduct their businesses is 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 Mbale study center 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 those interviewed 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 requires urgent money, I will not take produce to the cooperative and wait for weeks or months to be paid because they don’t have cash, yet Kenyans cash in instantly.” 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.

Most of the alleged cross – border buyers are believed to be hailing from the regions of west and central Kenya like Kirinyaga, Kahuro, Kakamega and Gatanga.

Sam 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.

Samuel Njiihia, a senior research scientist at Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, says this trend is due to population pressures which lead to high demand in Kenya.

Njiihia, however, was quick to point out that the practice has existed for a couple of years because most Kenyans view Uganda as a reliable food basket.

THE RAY OF HOPE 

Fortunately for the cooperatives and concerned farmers of eastern, 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.

Soybeans is one of the most sought after grains by Cross Border traders

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 year 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 this new baby, Busia-Kenya farmers and produce trader’s association, we are convinced that these issues can be streamlined and addressed for good, very soon.” Namula said.

Meanwhile, officials at TechnoServe – Uganda, the cross – border interference and middlemen are only a problem if they are exploiting farmers.

The idea of buying grains from gardens, hiring gardens from local farmers, cheating, the practice of entering into the country with personal farm equipment such as grain crushers, sorters and cleaners, international destabilization of the market price by foreign traders and middlemen is what TechnoServe – Uganda condemns.

“Undeniably, the idea of capitalizing on mind games against farmers or their local cooperatives by some of these traders is unfair. It’s one thing we are committed to stamping – out of this region.” She said.

Other than that, Namula, who represents the NGO in Eastern Uganda is adamant that since the EAC market is now open, it’s always the best bidder takes it all business.

“As an NGO aiding Government programs, we aim at ensuring that farmers are accessing a better price for their produce, therefore, if Kenyans and middlemen are the ones offering the best price there is in the market, farmers are free to sell to them.” Namula said.

According to Namula this challenge is not an isolated one, but one face with by the other cooperatives TechnoServe is sponsoring within Eastern Uganda including Namubuka SCE in Iganga, Bugiri Agro-business Institutional Development Association – BAIDA in Bugiri, Butagaya in Jinja and Buwenge Farmers’ Cooperative.

 

ENTER THE PUSH AND PULL FOR SPECIAL FARMERS’ MPS

Meanwhile, for a section of the concerned 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 army 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 special 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.” 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.

Felix Amogo, a 65-year-old farmer and cooperatives activist from Bukedea district shares the same sentiment with Namula stressing that Kenyans are better evils than some Ugandan unscrupulous traders.

Amogo also a retired teacher, urged fellow farmers to use their SACCOs profits to purchase advanced farm equipment so as to avoid selling grains to traders from gardens, since such a practice is manipulative.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

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