Agriculture Local

Covid-19 forced me to embrace Agriculture, Masereka is now a promising young commercial farmer

BY INNOCENT KIIZA

In Uganda, the first case of COVID-19, was confirmed on March 21, 2020 and a country’s wide lockdown was declared by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni a day later. To curtail the spread of the pandemic, curfews and travel restrictions were also put in place by the President.

With educational institutions closed, children were at home. This provided farm labour for households that depend on agriculture, but it also meant that educational institutions were not purchasing agricultural products to feed their students.

The closure of many informal markets in urban and peri-urban areas to avoid crowding disrupted food supply systems, especially for fresh produce. But it also opened new avenues for marketing farm produce. Door-to-door sales, online sales, and “boot sales” thrived in this new reality.

Hannington Masereka, is a 27-year-old youth and resident of Karusandara Sub County of Busongora County South in Kasese district.

After he was laid off from his role of being an Office Messenger at Kasese Printers in Kasese Town, Masereka resorted to practicing Agriculture as an alternative way for him to survive the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic that had global effects

Masereka joined the rest of the farmers in the Mubuku irrigation settlement scheme during COVID-19 and started cultivating maize on a large scale.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Masereka used to do contractual jobs with a number of non-Governmental organizations where he used to be paid on a monthly basis and it is this Money that he used as capital to hire a block “equivalent to one acre in the scheme and subsequently bought a calf. Masereka’s total investment was 1,800,000UGSH, (Calf-1,000,000/= and 800,000/= hire of an acre), however the harvest at the end of the season was not according to his expectations, but that did not stop him from pursuing his commercial farming dream.

Hanington Masereka in the Middle spraying his cows in Presence of the extension officer on his right and his Mam on the left.

“I had an idea of doing farming even before Covid-19, and I have been soliciting resources to enable me realize this dream in vain, however after I was laid off from my place of work where I used to get somemoney to feed my family due to Covid-19 restrictions, I resorted to going to the scheme something that I don’t regret” Masereka says.

Masereka narrating how he joined farming during the post Covid-19.

Janet Mbumbu, 25 year a private teacher whose job hanged in balance after the country was sent into lockdown, shares the same story with Masereka. Mbumbu is among the 70% of youths practicing farming in Mubuku irrigation scheme, she says, despite of the devastating effects of the pandemic to the country’s economy, she doesn’t regret instead the pandemic opened her eyes and now she is ripping big out of farming.

She says that since her lifetime, she has never pocketed a million but with her first rice harvest in Mubuku Irrigation, she earned two million which made her quit her teaching career and adopt commercial farming.

Mubuku Irrigation settlement scheme, located in Western Uganda, Kasese district has a current capacity of 10,000 active farmers and 70% of these are female where 20% are male. The scheme also employs over 500 casual laborers who work as water guards to do irrigation and monitoring of water levels.

Agriculture is the backbone of Uganda, and Mubuku irrigation is regarded as the food basket for Kasese district and the country at large where organizations that supply the country such as Farm Input Care Centre (FICA) Naluwyo Seed Company( NASO) with maize and rice seedling gets them from the Irrigation Scheme.

RESILIENCE

In order to curtail the spread of Covid-19, Kasese district authorities with the Office of Resident District Commissioner and the Ministry of Health conducted regular sensitization using community radios around the district about the signs and symptoms of Covid-19. They sensitized the masses to abide by the precautionary measures that were put by the Health Ministry and the Presidential Directives.

In Uganda, the farming sector was sited among the essential sectors, so farmers were allowed to carry on normal farming businesses, however on condition that they had to follow the guidelines. People in other sectors, their hopes remained in balance.

“The first wave of the pandemic taught me a lesson because it directly affected me, I asked myself a number of questions with limited answers”. “I asked myself, should I quit the teaching profession or I wait until when schools will reopen or look for what to do” Mbambu stresses.

In order to acquire land in the scheme I had to call my family members and friends to help me top up on what I had by that time, where she says, they responded positively because they were aware that all schools were under closure.

Mbambu says she raised one million where she used only four hundred thousand shillings to acquire half a block (equivalent to half an acre) and planted groundnut and used the rest of the money in buying Agro suppliers like fertilizers.

Mbambu’s acre of Rice in the Mubuku Irrigation Scheme.

However, she says since, the Government had authorized motor bikes and bicycles for transportation of one person in restricted areas to avoid spread ,and she had no money nor bicycle, she used to walk a distance of almost 30 kilometers daily to ensure that her groundnuts get enough water and fertilizer on time in order to get good yields.

EFFECT OF CURFEW

Mbambu says there was a time when she used to work over curfew time due to financial constraints to pay casual labor and on her way home, she finds police and UPDF Patrol implementing COVID-19 SOPs but  only the movement permit  she got from the office of the RDC could save her from sleeping in cells.

She adds that this couldn’t scare her to give all her time to farming because it’s where her hope and focus was to get money and start her lifetime commercial farming business.

Patrick Mwesigye, officer in charge of production and water supply Mubuku irrigation, mentioned that curfew time affected farmers produce not only Mbambu’s but even others where water accessibility time was limited to be done only during day time which created high demand and competition among farmers.

Most farmers in irrigation due to inadequate water supply, irrigation was done in phases day and night but the pandemic shifted the trend where irrigation was done day time creating competition and maximum supervision by farmers for better yields.

Mwesigye said 2020 Covid-19 pandemic affected the production rate to 1.5 tons of maize from 2.5 tons from one block (an acre) due to inadequate water accessibility, however youth involvement in Agriculture increased other Agro-produce and land renting rate.

When asked scheme help youth mediated the high land rate, he says they were encouraged to join groups and be given fertilizers and seedlings on credit and pay after the harvest

He highlighted that Agro-produce production in post covid-19 increased, where maize 500kg after 100kg, rice 500kg from 200kg,beans 300kg from 100kg, ground nuts 500kg from 200kg, tomatoes 1000 carets from 500 carets.

Graph showing the increase in percentage of crop production during Post Covid-19.

Savior Kemirembe , a rice and maize youth farmer, says scheme helped them so much by providing fertilizers and seedling on credit and allowing them to pay after harvest

“We couldn’t manage if the management of irrigation scheme didn’t look into assisting younger farmers during post Covid -19 pandemic since land rates had gone high due to high demand by people to start agriculture” Kemirembe stress.

“The Agro-produce increased due to youth engaging into serious Agriculture but financial constraints to get Agro-suppliers like fertilizers and seedling on time was challenge, that is why used supplied them to them on credit and pay after harvests “Mwesigye said.

SECOND WAVE OF COVID-19

During the second lockdown, Mbambu says had started saving and looking forward to renting more land again in the Mubuku irrigation scheme because of the secularity of water so that her crops don’t suffer climate change effects.

She mentioned that she had not made a lot of money from her previous farming harvest but the little she got was a step in her life to start over without looking behind as to re-establish herself as a commercial farmer.

Mbambu says being a re-established commercial famer; she needed capital, which she believes she can correct slowly but in return making connections with potential clients.

“Like any other person chasing a dream, I don’t stop bothering my friends and family members whom I had good relationship with, I requested them to lend me 2 million, which I used to hire two blocks (two acres) and made sure that I irrigate and put fertilize on time to improve my harvests” she mentioned.

As a younger farmer, farming had challenges where you have deliberately rendered your full time and support to ensure that causal laborers don’t leave out other parts of the garden not irrigated or supplied well with fertilizers for a guarantee of good harvests.

Communication about Covid-19 had both fake and correct news, it was difficult to tell which news was correct, but I had to listen every evening when am from scheme to watch Tv news and listen to radio to avoid exposing myself from conducting the disease, However she knew the signs and symptoms, so I avoided to engage much with my casual labors and could use digital payment using my phone to send them their wages they had worked for each day.

For Kemirembe Covid-19, it was a wakeup call to improve her lifestyle financially and health wise. She appreciates media houses for their vigilance in educating the community about Covid-19 and not only educating but also sensitizing the management of Mubuku irrigation scheme with regular surveillance.

“Covid-19 came as a wake –up call for all, because it affected the rich, the poor, the educated and uneducated-all categories alike. Many people, including my uncle, died because of Covid-19” Kemirembe said

The Kasese district production officer Julious Baluku says economic empowerment of youths is a key to build preparedness against pandemic such as Covid-19 that impacted everyone at the same time and changed many youths’ mindset to agricultural and available markets.

The Kasese District Production Officer says Youth involvement increased food production in the district during the post covid-19.

“No job should be considered for the poor, for uneducated and those educated, but having a large goal in mind to drive you. Youth have unique challenges as they lack support of direction” Baluku says.

He mentioned that. If youth are not encouraged to go into Agriculture then the country will lack producers. Encouraging youth into agriculture is important.

Paddy Neddala, Production Manager Nyakatonzi grower’s co-operative union, says Uganda a country in third world youths have to look at Agriculture as a big enterprise for them even after post Covid-19 and others have taken Agriculture as permanent job.

Neddala says government support is very important and critical in Agriculture and need to batch make emergency funds to quickly support the most vulnerable groups like youths and women when disaster like Covid-19 strikes again.

This story was produced with support from the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of Innocent Kiiza and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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