Below: President Yoweri Museveni is pondering to introduce solar pumps for irrigation in Uganda as a measure to fight droughts. Will the subsistence farmers adopt his new technology?
“Unfortunately, I am told that 40 per cent of the coffee seedlings have dried up because of the beneficiaries not watering them. This is terrible mistake”-Uganda’s President Museveni, ruler for 31 years now.
GULU-UGANDA: President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since January 1986, must be a very frustrated man today as his dream to transform the lives of 68 per cent of subsistence farmers in Uganda into a middle income status by 2020 seems to hang in balance, thereby frustrating him.
Museveni made his frustration known to Ugandans on Sunday October 9, 2016 during celebrations to mark 54 years of Independence held at Luuka district in eastern Uganda. He revealed that 48 million coffee seedlings, representing 40 per cent of 122 million coffee seedlings distributed to farmers under Operation Wealth Creation have all dried up since the beneficiaries who depend much on rain failed to water them.
Since 2013, when Operation Wealth Creation was started government has supplied 122 million coffee seedlings, 11 million fruit seedlings and 15 million tea seedlings in an attempt to transform 68 per cent of Ugandans who are still trapped in subsistence farming into commercial farmers.
Operation Wealth Creation is a multi-million shilling program initiated by Museveni himself and is headed by his powerful younger brother, General Caleb Akwandanaho alias General Salim Saleh. It is meant to transform subsistence farmers from abject poverty so that they can earn a minimum threshold of 20 million shillings per year. They are all veteran soldiers who run Operation Wealth Creation, but not professional agriculturists.
“Unfortunately I am told that 40 per cent of the coffee seedlings have dried up because of the beneficiaries not watering them. This is terrible mistake”, State-owned New Vision newspaper quoted Museveni.
This statement foretells the irony of a country, which has been independent since 1962 but still generating most of its wealth and food through nature-dependant agriculture. The county is yet to embrace large scale application of irrigation measures to contain environmental shocks including drought despite abundance of alternative water sources like rain water harvesting, fresh water lakes and rivers. Yet her President remains desperate to transform her into a middle-income status within the next four years.
The inability to harvest rain or tap Lake Victoria and other lakes or River Nile, the engine behind Egypt’s impressive success in Agriculture for that matter among other rivers to soak the soils for farming highlights deficiency in technology and irrigation policy by the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries.
According to Mr. Joseph Edatu, the Officer-in-charge of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) weather station in northern Uganda district of Gulu, the region has been receiving “fair amount” of rainfall in the past few years as compared to other regions like Teso sub-region in eastern Uganda where there has been total crop failure in a number of occasions.
Records at the Gulu weather station indicate that in March and June 2016 for example, Gulu received a total of 21.51 milliliters and 107.2 milliliters of rainfall respectively while the maximum recorded temperature averaged between 29.2 degree Celsius in March 2016 compared to 29.5 degree Celsius in June 2016.
“Rainfall in Gulu has been fairly alright unlike other areas that I saw which witnessed crop failure; like in Teso sub-region where people are failing to get harvest because of prolonged dry spell” says Edatu.
Weather pattern has changed so much over the last fifty years because of indiscriminate encroachment into woodlands and wetlands. I remember by the 1960’s, the first rain would fall around February but these days, the first rain is not expected until late march or early April. This only goes to emphasize the fact that Climate has greatly changed over time.
Gulu and Nwoya districts are on the spotlight for refusing to receive some of the fruit seedlings which were dumped to their respective district headquarters off season by suppliers under the supervision of managers of Operation Wealth Creation.
“Operation Wealth Creation is the worst program I have ever seen. How do you bring maize seeds in October for planting yet rain stops in November? This is meant to create more poverty instead of alleviating it. Can such seedlings survive the dry spell?” says Mr. Okello Patrick Oryema, the Nwoya local government chairman while commenting on tones of Operation Wealth Creation fruits seedlings he recently rejected.
The National Deputy Commander of Operation Wealth Creation, Maj. Gen. Julius F. Oketta, expressed “sorry and regret” in a telephone interview that some of the seedlings drying up and heifer dairy cattle supplied to beneficiaries have died because the beneficiaries did not receive adequate skills preparation for survival of the inputs.
Maj. Gen. Oketa blames the mistake on poor co-ordination between the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), a predecessor program charged with supply of inputs in view of transforming agriculture and his office whose role is chiefly coordinating the chain supply of inputs to farmers.
According to the senior military officer, new changes are set to be implemented in the program. “President Museveni has again ordered for a complete overhaul of the system for NAADS to procure seedlings as requested for by beneficiaries in a parish unlike at district level as previously being done”.
He adds that “under the new order, NAADS will not procure seedlings that farmers have not requested for and we will try our best to deliver them at the start of rainy season”. The thinking is that the inputs will be cared for well when requested for by farmers themselves.
Will the new changes take Uganda to Middle Income Economy?
President Museveni seems to know the solutions to the dilemma hindering his vision of a middle income economy. During the 54th Independence anniversary he hinted to farmers to adopt rudimentary method of irrigation employing the use of used mineral water bottle as drip irrigation technology in the worse of a season. He said the 300 Milliliter water bottles are filled with water before tiny holes are pricked underneath, through which droplets of water can escape to nourish the roots of plants in scorching sun heat. If all coffee seedlings could receive this mighty droplet, Museveni says Uganda will be unstoppable by 2020.
“Government is considering introducing solar water pumps for farmers to use for irrigating their crops as a measure to curb the effect of drought”, he told the people of Luuka district.
“It is irrational to cry about drought when the lakes are full of water. The answer is therefore solar pumps so that we can irrigate locally to cover up for the dry spell which normally happens between January-February and June, July and September”, says Museveni.