PLEASE join me in expressing sympathy for one Edward Kisubika, coordinator of a group of over 100 farmers who on Sunday, September 27 last year formed the Mukono Ginger Farmers Association.
Kisubika and his friends had high hopes, and he told The New Vision at the event that he could invest about Ushs5million and make over Ushs20million out of an acre. At that time, a kilogramme of ginger was going for between Ushs8,000 and Ushs10,000 each.
I sympathise quite deeply for Kisubika because, according to the story, he started out as a fisherman at Katosi landing site and got problems, then quit. He rested to vanilla “but when prices fell, I lost all my money I had invested. I kept growing vanilla and food crops but with little commercial benefit.”
Then he moved to ginger (NOT ‘ji-nga’).
And this week The New Vision reported that prices of ginger had dropped from Ushs8,000 to Ushs1,000.
With that price drop, very simplistic mathematics will tell you that Kisubika’s expectation of Ushs20million will now actually give him Ushs2,500,000 only. That is HALF of what he invested at the start of the season – hoping he didn’t spend much more supervising the crop and buying a copy of the newspaper that announced the price drop.
Let us hold a moment of silence there.
Ginger is one of the world’s most on-demand spices. It is used in EVERY Chinese meal, meaning that billions of people around the world eat it. It is also used in very many of the world’s drinks, herbal teas and medicines. In Europe, demand is rising day by day because of the growing drive for healthy eating and living.
I called up the Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) about the price collapse to ask what they were doing about it, since the crop the farmers have in their fields hasn’t been harvested yet and hope shouldn’t be lost.
“Ginger prices have dropped due to increased production which has now spread outside the original producing areas of Butambala and Busoga. This increased production has also been propelled by improvement in farming techniques that are making less costly to manage,” I was told.
The good people there said we have mostly been exporting it informally while formal statistics show that last year we only exported to Rwanda (130 tonnes), the United Kingdom (1 tonne) and Burundi (6 tonnes).
“Traders in Butambala have also indicated that many buyers (thought to be of Kenyan origin) bring in trucks and load ginger from different towns within the area,” they said.
I was heartened to hear that Uganda is also trying out dried ginger, which should help the Kisubika’s keep their crop in a form that doesn’t let it go to waste should the market stay bad.
And, “Ginger powder and ginger flavoured beverages, for example, are now a common sight in super market in key urban centres.”
The UEPB is now looking for alternative reliable market outlets that suit Uganda’s production patterns and has “initiated market research to identify these alternative markets, their requirements and how Ugandan exporters can benefit.”
All that is good, as is the internet research I quoted above, but it should all have been made use of back in September when the Kisubika’s were excitedly forming their association and increasing production outside of Butambala and Busoga.
Plus, there should have been discussions involving the processing, manufacturing and finance sectors to meet the Kisubika’s goal of setting up a processing factory in Mukono. And it is late but not too late for these discussions to begin – we have government ministries and departments in charge of finance, agriculture, trade, industry, labour and more that should have a meeting over this.
And if they are asleep then the entrepreneurs should be moving faster. This Wednesday I had a chat with Gerald Owachi, of Pamrone, who told me he and his partners are trying to put together Ushs105million to order for a dryer/drier to be fabricated and stationed on their farm.
Theirs will not be just a grain dryer/drier as normally happens, but will be principally used to dry cassava, so it will certainly be capable of drying other tubers and ginger as well.
Ushs105million is half the price of a second hand Range Rover or Land Cruiser – and there are many of those on the streets of Kampala. At the very worst, though, that amount of money is also equivalent to five second hand sedans on the streets of Kampala – again, meaning that it is an easy investment for a group of entrepreneurs to make if they got together to do the maths and talk to the likes of Gerald Owachi and Kisubika.
If the supply of ginger is so good that it is outstripping local and regional demand to bring prices down, then surely it should be enough to support manufacturing so that the fresh ginger can have value added to it and fetch more than peanuts?
ONE morning last year I astonished @spartakussug, a marketing and creative design fellow, when I changed the location of our meeting appointment from a popular cafe to a sedate office location. The caveat, I told him, was that he would have to spend the equivalent of our coffee bills on buying mango tree seedlings.
He did, and I eventually planted five mango trees, after explaining to him that city people like us were spending too much time and money “living life” to stop and take the reality of our potential into account. He promised to secure land and start planting his own trees, vegetables and what not, and I will this week be following up on that.
I started on this journey a long time ago, thanks to an actively agricultural family background, so for more than a month now I have been anxious over when the rains will
And when this week the skies opened up with more promise than the tickling it did a couple of weeks ago, I jumped out of bed with an enthusiasm I did not have when I was still in school.
I wasn’t surprised to read tweets and facebook posts about burrowing deeper into bed on account of the morning rains, because our city lifestyle is influenced by the movies, novels and internet posts – where most of the content is created and published by people who live in harsh climates that cannot grow crops left, right, centre, and all food comes from supermarkets.
Because we ‘live’ in a culture that is based in other countries that don’t have the climate, soils, seeds, and traditional agricultural knowledge that exists in tropical Africa, we tend to think like people who do. That’s why, for instance, I can spend one thousand shillings on one avocado fruit every day for years and years, even though one avocado seedling will cost me two thousand shillings and within one and a half years will serve up thousands of fruits. That same avocado, if converted into ebigenderako at a joint selling roast meat, will fetch a value of Ushs4,000!
See, over the weekend I had paid my parents a visit and returned with a sack of avocados collected quite casually within minutes from one of the trees in their garden (the real one – olusuku), and as usual I calculated very carefully how much money I had saved on my market shopping for the next couple of weeks, with adjustments to my diet plan.
My own avocado tree, where I live, is going to be serving up large numbers of the fruits again in a short while and I am adopting a new policy for the benefit of my children, based on what I told Collin last year: for every fruit we consume from that one tree in my front garden I will put aside one thousand shillings in cash.
All the money I collect in this way will be spent buying avocado tree seedlings for planting on a farm patch – and the possession of that land, of course, is a pre-requisite for this approach to work, though even that land could be acquired quite easily by many of these city people using their spare change or if they buy fewer buffet meals and less whisky.
So it was that on Monday, before some people had ordered for their office snacks using online and mobile apps, I had used the very same technology to place orders for a range of tree seedlings to add to my last planting – and I will do that every chance I get, till I have
these fruits and vegetables pouring out in piles.
And let’s not worry that if you all join in and we all have piles and piles of fruits and vegetables that nobody will buy them – at the very least, all those people out there in that wide world who are snuggling in their beds in the bad weather will buy up our produce. On another level, other people will start up business ventures to transport, refrigerate, package, process, brand and export our stuff.
Just make sure that when it rains in the mornings you aren’t the one holding the blanket tighter to your chin – lazima you should get up and call the guys at the farm to find out if it’s raining there and they are at work in the fields.
A CHANCE meeting at the start of this week has re-focussed my attention onto agriculture as an economic activity and one day, a few years from now, I will share stories of my successes perhaps even in in one of those newspaper pullouts that inspire us weekly to till the earth.
My chance encounter was with an old friend, Gerald Owachi, whose story shocked me on so many levels there is no way a newspaper article can do it justice.
He will write a book about it all one day, since he is a journalist by training and a well studied one at that, having attended classes at Harvard and Tufts in the United States.
After those classes, he joined various high end organisations doing public policy, conflict resolution and what not, earning money in foreign currencies, but one day dropped everything to do agriculture. Teaming up with two other friends – Harry Hakiza and J.J. Onen – they went into northern Uganda.
The story is rather long and I have since moved on from the incredulity I felt when they shared their plans many years ago, so by Monday morning I was asking for a simple update only for Gerry to tell me they had 240 acres of cassava full grown!
Cassava is one of my favourite foods right now, because my domestic arrangements have involved training people up to fry cassava sticks to a point that we are soon entering the dish into cooking competitions for local foods – another story coming soon somewhere near you.
Every time I find there is a shortage of cassava in the markets near my home I marvel at how silly our agricultural marketing is – but that is nothing compared to Gerry’s experiences in the fields of cassava.
With 240 acres, for instance, their cassava project is probably the biggest single one of that crop in Uganda but, for some reason, they are not one of the major suppliers of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). They are one of the suppliers, but only got listed after a hilarious story that must go into Gerry’s book.
It involved having their ‘project’ inspected by a superior, imperious NAADS fellow who had the bearing of a small god simply because he has the power to determine whether or not the results of the sweat and investment of people like Gerry, Harry, J.J. and their thousand-odd workers, should be placed onto a list of suppliers.
See, there are these well-intentioned projects that governments around the world implement but in doing so they employ small-minded chaps who take their representation of the government to such heights that if they don’t like your attitude they can reject (or frustrate) your project into oblivion.
So this big cassava project was off the supply list but they insisted their way onto it and eventually got allocated some bags – meaning they were assigned the privilege of supplying bags of cassava cuttings to the NAADS project.
“You know Uganda is the Centre of Excellence for Cassava growing…?” Gerry began, making me choke on my coffee as I spluttered a ‘What The…?’
It is true.
The internet even says stuff like, “The Cassava Regional Centre of Excellence is based in Uganda, taking advantage of Uganda’s proven track record of success in providing leadership in cassava research, training and dissemination of technologies and information…”
It would be – it basically grows anywhere under even arid conditions. Which is why the three chaps’ project was so important – because on their 240 acres they focussed on one, consistent breed or strain of cassava, rather than the very many funny ones in existence elsewhere.
As they were starting up, they tried to get the right cuttings and couldn’t find any that were consistent for a while. They went to the National Crops Resources Research Institute at Namulonge and eventually set up a partnership that ensured they had a sensible strain of cassava.
That’s another reason NAADS should be interested in them, and them in NAADS, because if one of the odd strains gets into their 240 acres they could lose their entire crop. You see, a short while ago someone said they had found Cassava Brown Streak disease in Western Uganda…
No – crisis meetings have not been called, even if Ugandan Brown Streak disease is ranked among the top seven biological threats to global food security.
All in all, their book will be an interesting read – wait for the section on ACF – the Agricultural Credit Facility under Bank of Uganda, an abbreviation few of us can recognise as quickly as TDA today, yet it’s been there since 2009. Under the ACF you and I can get up to Ushs2.1billion (or even Ushs5billion if the project is good enough), at 10% per annum.
They got one of far less than that, and because of bureaucracy found themselves paying a commercial bank loan at a much higher interest rate a couple of months into planting and…they are now in court minus the tractor they purchased with the loan, and the 80% they had paid for it in cash.
But they have their 240 acres of cassava sitting intact, for now, and they’re aiming at 3,500 planted by 2017.
As a resident of the Cassava Centre of Excellence, how many patches of your own cassava will you have by then?
I have fond memories of a time, back in the 1980s, when we children would spend weeks at my grandfather’s residence in Bulindi, Hoima doing all sorts of work – especially mowing the compound using a mechanical mower, then sweeping up the grass.
To convey the cut grass into the nearby garden for use as mulch, we used an old iron sheet that had two holes punched into it for a long wire to be inserted and used as a handle. In those days of scarcity we made do with what we had, and invention was born of necessity.
At around the same time in my life, one day in school we were taught about simple and compound machines, including the wheelbarrow. We learnt to draw the wheelbarrow and found it was made up of basically the two items in its name – a wheel and a barrow. Its function was to allow one to convey things carried in a barrow, using the convenience of a wheel.
All this came back to me last week at the end of a day spent hobby gardening in Wakiso, with a couple of chaps, one of whom had a ‘Citizen’s’ identity card (not the National ID ones) that described him as a “Peasant”.
I had insisted, as part of the gardening plan, that we divide the different agricultural plots with paths and walkways for various reasons – including enabling the workers to use wheelbarrows to do their basic duties.
They were convinced, and at the end of the day one of the items on the list of requirements was a wheelbarrow – which they assumed would go for about Ushs90,000 each in Kampala. I eventually found one at Ushs50,000 being sold online, but of course it was imported from China.
But before closing that discussion, a memory hit me from a month ago: while doing some work at home, we dug up quite a lot of soil that needed to be relocated elsewhere, but the wheelbarrow I bought years ago while doing the construction had since been stolen.
Just as I was about to approve the hiring of fifteen casual labourers to use their muscle power, one of the workers told us we could hire a wheelbarrow from Mbuya, and provided a phone number. About Ushs1,200 of my phone airtime later, they had confirmed that hiring the wheelbarrow for the day would be Ushs3,000. But we also had to use a boda boda to fetch it, at Ushs5,000 one way.
By the evening, I had spent Ushs14,200 for the use of a wheelbarrow for a day.
And now, with my situation in Wakiso, I feel we need to make more wheelbarrows in Uganda – and not the wooden ones used to carry fruit. All the construction and farming work we are doing should certainly support a local wheelbarrow industry even if we do not produce the steel for it.
But before that, would you believe this story from a Canadian on Facebook in 2011? After visiting Uganda and doing some voluntary work building things, he noticed work was being done too manually. So this person bought a wheelbarrow all the way from Canada, flew it to Uganda on an aeroplane, then put it in a minibus to Gulu for use on a construction project, and the people there were fascinated by the contraption. In fact, after he had assembled it, with the entire village gathered round, they were all afraid to use it “until one young man was brave enough to try it”.
To declare a young man in Gulu, the centre of war in northern Uganda for over two decades, “brave” for using a wheelbarrow, is what we call in local vernacular, “okujooga”.
I blame our being kujooga’d for so long by so many people on our stupidity in not adopting simple technology for developmental use, in spite of our education and the availability of the basics we need to fashion our own wheelbarrows and make use of them to ease work.
I LIKE mangoes. I spend a lot of money on mangoes. A few years ago, after we had moved into our new place and were basking in the achievement, a pal called Edgar Byama dropped by one weekend and gave us a couple of fruit tree seedlings.
My joy at receiving them fuelled my planting efforts and I tended the trees carefully over the first year until I spotted a couple of mangoes popping out as fruit.
My excitement was kept in check by the anticipation of getting to slice into them when they became ripe one day, and I made daily pilgrimages to the tree to check on the literal fruits of my labour.
Until one day when even from a distance I could tell that something was not right. My chest tightened as I got to the tree and was forced to accept the empty truth.
A quick investigation resulted in a delayed but dumbfounded confession from an askari who was astonished that I could put so much energy into establishing where three or so mangoes had gone.
The wretched fellow must have been switching glances from my angry face to the house and car, and back again, thinking that the value of those mangoes surely was not commensurate to the amount of feeling my eyes bore into his. But I was unsympathetic, and explained to him that it was the principle of the thing – even though I did not mention the amount of food I happily plied him with daily.
It didn’t make sense to him and his apologies were certainly not as profuse as the mangoes had probably been juicy, but I accepted them anyway, in the belief that it would be a matter of weeks till I had replacements naturally sent my way (in the askari and the mango sense, both).
I was wrong.
It took more than another year or so – not to get the askari changed, that happened quicker; with the mangoes, eventually the flowers showed up again and I followed the life cycle of the fruit keenly until, a few weeks ago, I noticed a healthy offering developing on the same healthy tree.
My excitement levels shot up again, and I took the current askari through a quick module on ethics at work and respecting other people’s property, then watched the fruit grow. After a couple of weeks, I found myself unable to control my excitement when they reddened and increased in size.
Such was my loss of self-control that I took photographs and sent them round with pride, and purred a bit when friends sent back congratulatory comments.
For ten minutes.
When some pals began asking for guidance so they could also procure mango seedlings in order to venture into some level of “farming” as well, I began to feel how foolish I have actually been all along.
Five mangoes? Maybe ten, these few years past? Right here a few metres from where my bed stands?
Perhaps that askari I gave a rough time had left to plant a couple of dozen mango trees of his own and was that very day filling up sacks to send to the market, while I was here proudly exhibiting my five mangoes using a smartphone whose value at purchase could have funded a small but sizeable mango farm complete with cost of land!
I realised, that day, that I need NAADS. I am ill-educated and ignorant. A fool, growing fruit as a past time instead of seriously investing in farming so that I spend less cash on the fruits themselves. NAADS, or Operation Wealth Creation, should be aimed at the likes of me, and other city dwellers wasting resources instead of investing them sensibly into long-term, value-addition-based agricultural ventures.