In a national budget proposal released earlier this month, the Ugandan
government pledged to assist the country's poor subsistence farmers. The budget promises farmers greater access to low-interest loans,
equipment and disease-resistant seeds. But farmers say they are
skeptical that their lives will improve.
Two days a week,
Ssenkiko Twaha squeezes into a shared taxi and travels two hours from
his 80-acre corn plantation in the Masaka district to Kampala.
does not make the trip to sell crops. Instead, the subsistence farmer
hawks shoes from a rusty stand in the bustling New Taxi Park
Marketplace. Twaha says he has no choice but to take on a second job
since he cannot sustain nine family members on the $300 he earns in
corn profits each season.
"In Uganda, we are poor. We do not get
tools. You may find somebody who has energy to work, but has no tool,
has no money to buy hoe, has no seeds. So, that's the problem," he said.
says a couple of years ago, the government delivered corn seeds to his
district. But the seeds were expired and did not germinate. Similar
setbacks have occurred in other parts of the country.
agricultural sector last year managed to grow two-and-a-half percent,
but not always to the benefit of farmers. They cite coffee as an
example. Coffee exports increased this past year, but they were paid
less for their crop because of reduced global demand.
aims to ride out the global recession by increasing agricultural
exports to foreign markets to reduce the budget deficit. Earlier this
month, the Ugandan government showed a willingness to follow that
agenda, introducing measures to strengthen the country's agricultural
Uganda's new national budget dedicates five percent of
the total budget to agriculture, a huge jump from the one percent
allocation five years ago. The budget promises subsistence farmers
greater access to competitive loans, capped at 10 percent interest,
disease-resistant seeds, and modern farm equipment.
subsistence farmers and others are expressing skepticism about the
measures. Many say they fear that this effort, like many before it,
will never go beyond the planning stage.
Shoeless children, as
young as five years-old, pace through the fields in Central Uganda's
Mukono District. Most are using their bare hands to uproot crops.
They are the faces of the 10 million Ugandans who live in poverty, the
poorest of which are rural subsistence farmers.
Nevertheless, it is estimated that subsistence farmers contribute as much as 15 percent to the country's gross national product.
Kiwala grows corn, coffee, and bananas in the Mukono District. He says
low-interest loan packages would greatly help poor farmers in his
district increase their yields. But he says he doubts any funds will
ever reach his village.
Kiwala says the government has lied
several times and has never acted on anything it has promised. The
subsistence farmer adds his community has not received any assistance,
but funds have been widely distributed to districts like Mbarara, where
families of politicians reside.
This criticism is echoed by
several other farmers in the same district. It comes against the
backdrop of government pledges to squash corruption and keep closer
tabs on budget allocations.
Kiwala says that if the government
was serious about improving the plight of farmers, it would help
develop a more effective local lending system. He suggests the
government work with existing farmers' cooperatives to distribute group
Kiwala says it is important to unite and be a cooperative
because one individual may not feel inspired to return a loan. The
subsistence farmer says the group would hold each other accountable to
re-pay the bank money.
The national budget also details plans
for 30,000 model farmers to be instructed in modern farming techniques
through the country's National Advisory Agriculture Services Program.
Michael Joseph, who serves as a middleman between farmers and crop
wholesalers in the Mukono district, says teaching farmers new
techniques will prove futile unless subsistence farmers are given funds
to implement the prescribed practices. He notes that most farmers
profits go towards paying off high-interest rates from previous loans.
"You know the problem of farmers, the farmers they are not educated, somehow, eh?" he said.
goes on to say most farmers take out loans without fully understanding
the terms of those loans. He says lenders often deceive the farmers
and take all of their profits.
Back in Kampala's New Taxi market, Twaha makes a sale, selling a pair of flip-flops to a gum-chewing teenager.
says he has never taken out a loan, but remains hopeful that the
government's new budget measures will make that possible someday. Only
then, he says, can he commit full-time to what he was born to be - a