The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries is intensifying plans to mechanise agriculture by distributing more tractors to large-scale farmers.
Agriculture minister Frank Tumwebaze last week told the parliamentary committee on agriculture that beneficiary large-scale farmers looking to produce on 50 acres and above are selected by the chief administrative officers (CAOs).
Tumwebaze said the ministry has procured 240 tractors, which are being shipped before distribution starts.
“The 20 tractors are from the supplementary budget that you passed. The people we give these tractors must be serious and we get them from you — the Members of Parliament,” Tumwebaze said.
When asked by the legislators to explain further on the criteria of selecting tractor beneficiaries, the minister said: “There is no secret criteria in selecting the large scale farmers and we expect the lists to be submitted by the CAOs.”
He said the ministry is also ready to work with the legislators in selecting the farmers, who will then be verified before the tractors are distributed.
The minister said the 240 tractors set for distribution will beef up the work being done by the 325 tractors that have been given out over the last three financial years.
“Let us agree that we cannot give out tractors evenly to the districts in the country. I may not need a tractor in Kamwenge district because of the terrain, but someone in Karamoja needs it,” Tumwebaze said while responding to calls for equal distribution by legislators.
Boniface Okanya, the commissioner for engineering and mechanisation services in the agriculture ministry, said of the 325 tractors distributed in recent years, 285 went to National Agricultural Advisory Services beneficiaries, five to farmers in Kalangala and 40 to dairy production areas.
“The demand for tractors is high, with over 1,000 applications received by the ministry annually from large scale farmers across the country,” he said.
Okanya said currently, the tractor population in the country stands at 4,782, but that only less than 1,200 are functional. Considering the terrain of other parts of the country, the ministry revealed, it plans to distribute 740 lower power tractors that will be used by the farmers in opening their gardens.
Okanya said the ministry is also piloting a tractor hire system at sh40,000 per acre, to small-scale farmers, saying hiring the private tractors has been expensive.
“We have 16 tractors for hire at sh40,000 per acre. We realised that the private sector was charging higher and yet the farmers would not get service in time. In other areas, farmers have been hiring tractors at sh200,000 per acre,” he explained.
Okanya also said mechanisation efforts were on course, adding that three of the planned 19 regional mechanisation centres have so far been established in Dokolo, Mbale and Mpigi while those for Kiryandongo and Arua will be set up soon.
The MP for Kimaanya Kabonera, in Masaka City, Abed Bwanika, said it is important for the ministry to recall the tractors that are not being used and those that have been misused so that they are given to beneficiaries who are more serious.
Bwanika said some of the tractors distributed by the Government in the past have ended up being sold off to farmers in Kenya.
Mary Begumisa, the Sembabule District Woman representative, asked the minister to also consider giving tractors to small-scale farmers because they do not have money to hire tractors, adding that most of the large-scale farmers are foreign investors, who are able to purchase or hire tractors.
She said most of the farmers have waited in vain to benefit from the massive distribution of hand hoes that were pledged by President Yoweri Museveni in 2016 elections campaigns.
In response, Tumwebaze, urged the committee on agriculture to support his efforts to secure money for the hand hoes by engaging the finance ministry on the specific budget.
“Let us write to the finance ministry and remind them that these hoes are a presidential pledge and there is need for it to be fulfilled,” Tumwebaze said.