By: Javier Silas Omagor
Having spent years grappling with limited market access owing to poor road network and exploitation by middlemen and cross – border produce dealers, the farmers in Sebei sub region in Eastern Uganda are again being faced with tough times, this time round by the extreme weather patterns.
A 75-year-old farmer, William Chelengat, says in the past, their ancestors predicted rain through direction of the wind, cloud formations and when certain trees begin to grow leaves.
“Our region was literally a food basket of this country given the soil fertility, anchored by good but most importantly predictable weather.” The ageing Chelangat said.
The father of 16 says Sebei produced harvest in abundance and the only problem then was the poor road network linking farmers to the market, the menace which has since been sorted by government.
“We the farming communities no longer have enough harvest compared to 15 years ago; these days when it rains, it sometimes falls too much, making the crops over-grow… [and not] germinate.
Yet when it shines, sometimes it goes on for a long time, withering the crops.” A demoralized Hajji Yusuf MuhamudMudondo the general manager at Kaserem Area Cooperative – KACE, said in an exclusive interview.
Started in 2005, the farmer member based, Kaserem Area Cooperative has up to 2,289 registered farmers with 1,000 of them being youths and the number of women currently standing at 668 while persons living with disabilities -PWDs are 38.
Their manager now worries that if the inconsistent weather continues, such subscribing farmers and their families are at a risk.
SaidaChemongesi, a soyabean farmer is another concerned one, she says apparently there is much rain which has seen has gardens waterlogged.
“I had prepared for harvesting this month but as you may see, I am not able to because water has consumed most parts of my farm.” Chemonges painfully said.
She is one of the members at KACE farmers’ cooperative located in Kaserem, a reason she is alarmed that the erratic rainfall might cost them recently signed deals with top organizations.
In August this year (2019), their cooperative (KACE) signed a deal to supply World Food Program – WFP and Operation Wealth Creation – OWC, mainly with grains.
The sub region, comprising savannah grass land and mountainous landform is potentially very productive growing crops such as coffee, beans, soybeans, maize, tomatoes, and among others.
In 2016, heavy rains in the first quarter and prolonged sunshine also left several farmers counting losses, undermining food reserves in Sebei.
Faced with the effects of the unpredictable weather, farmers from Kween, Bukwo and Kapchorwa districts are pleading that government or development partners help introduce alternative farming methods, which they could adapt.
MunibuKitiyo, a farmer in Kween district says that this would be essential since the changing weather has made it difficult for them to even provide for their families.
Asked if there was any solution they would establish and explore to remedy the situation on their own as farmers, Kitiyo replied saying that farmers were too poor to afford irrigation system equipment by themselves.
These Sebei farmers are among many rural farmers in Uganda whose livelihoods have been affected by increasingly erratic rainfall and high temperatures.
Meteorological Authority Speaks Out
The Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), says that situation might even get a little worse in the near future.
Speaking in a phone interview, Festus Luboyera, the Executive Director of UNMA says Sebei is one among the eight agricultural zones in Uganda which will experience above normal rainfall in this month of September to December precipitation season.
Luboyera adds that the latest forecast indicates that the onset of the second season has already began in most parts of the country those predicted to receive above normal rainfall exceeding the average amount received over the last 30 years.
Four of the agricultural zones are expected to receive near normal rainfall, well below the average received over the last 30 years.
The meteorological authority boss is now urging farmers to start early field preparations for early planting. He says they should plant long maturi9ng crops such as millet, sorghum, maize, Cassava, coffee and sweet potatoes at the start of the rainfall season in this month – September.