The Road to the Promise Land

From grassroots to national level, my internship with SEATINI has strengthened my capacity around food security and agri-policy issues in Uganda, including issues of trade liberalisation and development throughout the East African Communities. I have also been learning a lot about the many challenges and opportunities faced by small scale farmers in maize production at each stage of the value chain in the country. Some of the challenges addressed include the farmer’s dependence on climate change for increased production – especially the rain season – and inadequate access to markets, where farmers are largely isolated from the consumer, and from the demands and preferences of traders, processor and consumers both at national and in the export markets.

In Uganda, maize has become the main source of food security, replacing many cereals like Sorghum and millet as one of the key cereals in many parts of the country. It is the main food for schools, hospitals, and police, and in earlier years, was served as the main meal for prisoners. In addition, it has the potential for income generation in the rural areas and for ensuring food security throughout the country.

To experience maize production firsthand, I travelled to Nakaseke District with two colleagues and two journalists to interview key stakeholders in the maize sub-sector.  We spoke with several key players about the challenges and opportunities in agricultural production, including maize farmers, traders, district officials, and a radio talk show host. The interviews intended to highlight the roles farmers can play to maximize their profits and to draw insight on the implementation of quality and safety standard regulations that can better enable farmers to benefit more from maize production.

“Maize has given food security” – Mr. George Kirabira, Maize Farmer

After speaking with Mr. George Kirabira – a successful farmer in the area – I learnt that maize has a market both at national level, regionally and globally through the World Food Program (WFP). He said although the maize is dry and ready for harvest, he is delaying harvest with hope of receiving a visit from the WFP. According to Mr. Kirabira, the program is satisfied with his progress. He said “I started with 20 acres of maize and now I have 40.” With this success, he expects to expand his farm to 60 acres of maize to attract more investors. His wife, who also contributes to the family business, hopes to establish a collective marketing program throughout the community to advocate for bigger markets. As a result, she says the World Food Program would be more interested to come to the district.

Farmer says his success with producing high quality maize has made him a role model in his community. “Other farmers will visit me and my maize fields to see if it is time to harvest.”

“We could benefit from having a shelling machine in our community. The nearest machine is in the next community over, which is 14 kms away. It costs us 20,000 shillings (approx. $8 USD) to hire a motorcycle to transport one bag, and that is on top of the cost of using the machine. We just can’t afford it.”

In addition to farming, Mr. Kirabira is also a role model for farming in his community. Each week he facilitates a community program to sensitise youth to maize production. His goal is to use drums and music to engage youth and to teach them the best farming practices, and how to meet quality and safety standards. He says “we also talk about the negative effects of gambling and betting, which has become popular among the youth. The youth seem to appreciate his program, and have continued to show interest.

“I use my drums and music to create community programs to sensitize youth to maize production. I want to teach them the best farming practices and how to meet quality and safety standards. We also talk about the negative effects of gambling and betting, which has become popular among the youth.”

Farmers packing maize from the fields.

After interviewing additional farmers, district officials and policy makers, we stopped by a local community radio center to learn more about how radio is used to engage community members and farmers on issues of maize production.  The popular live talk show hosts farmers every Monday afternoon to discuss at length these issues and reaches a large audience of over 5 sub-counties. The manager of the Nakaseke Telecenter elaborates on some of the most important issues in the maize value chain in the district:

“Maize millers and middle men are the largest challenges in the value chain. Middle men are encouraging the habit of poor farming practices by not rejecting lower grade maize. Farmers see no problem with their bad practices because they are getting the same price as their neighbour who is producing higher quality maize with better farming practices. Civic education for middle men needs to be addressed.”

Examples of both good and bad farming practices: A good production practice is using a tarp to protect the maize from dirt and other bacteria. 

In addition, Farmers are thankful for the new standards program in their community. However, storage is still a production issue for some farmers who are advised to wait for the preferable market returns. There are also issues of land, where seeds need to be planted before the upcoming rain, however, they have not harvested their maize yet.

Overall, my trip upcountry for my first field facilitation was both fruitful and enriching. I learnt much about the various challenges small scale farmers are facing in the maize value chain in the Nakaseke District in Uganda. From the above discussion, the emerging key issues that need to be addressed include: promoting good farming practices and quality standards, educating middle men and each level of the value chain, and improving market access to link the producer to a market and credit source. Addressing these issues will then enable farmers to move up the value chain so that they can tap into new opportunities and preferable market prices.

Farmer uses signs to test between plots of different fertilizers. He is testing to see which types of fertilizers will yield the most desirable results.

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