By Denis Nsubuga
Several citrus fruit farmers in Teso region have started realising gains from the technical and input support rendered to them at the request of President Yoweri Museveni.
While commissioning Soroti Fruit Factory in 2019, Museveni not only thanked South Korea for assisting the Government with $7.4m to set up the factory but said Uganda needed assistance from Korea in terms of machines and technocrats.
As a result, a variety of orange farmers in the region have received farm inputs and knowledge that have enabled gradual improvement of their yields and household incomes.
In a partnership between the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and Korea Programme on International Agriculture (KOPIA), over 100 orange farmers last week received the latest batch of inputs in form of metallic ladders to help in proper orchard management.
The items were provided under a project which established model villages for citrus cultivation and marketing in the region. Over 125 households were selected from the districts of Soroti, Kalaki, Ngora and Kumi.
In each model village, 42 households were selected, through which various technologies are being disseminated by training and other capacity-building activities. Farmers trained have in turn served as trainers or model farmers for other farmers.
Before metallic ladders, farmers were given pruning saws, scissors, protective wear, fertilisers, fungicides and insecticides.
KOPIA Uganda country director Dr Park Taeseon, who handed over the tools to farmer groups, said besides poor agronomic practices, fruit farmers lacked essential materials thus undermining the quality of fruits.
“Quality is a major factor in marketing fruits, yet it is mostly affected by a lack of tools to move inputs such as manure in the field, tree management, fruit harvesting and storage. Such support eases the overall orchard management, ultimately improving citrus yields and farmers’ incomes,” he said.
Citrus is an important commercial crop in Eastern Uganda. A baseline study conducted in 2021 by the partnership indicated that farmers gave less attention to post-harvest handling of fruits and lack basic tools required during harvesting, such as wheelbarrows, tarpaulins, harvesting crates and ladders. Other constraints included high costs of inputs, low market prices and limited markets.
Taeseon said intensive education of farmers on citrus production technologies, marketing skills and group leadership greatly enhances their performance on managing their orchards and teamwork.
Under the project, two citrus experts from South Korea visited Uganda to, jointly with NARO, facilitate research and training of farmers in citrus crop management practices.
According to NARO, a good-yielding citrus tree produces between 400 to 550 fruits annually, translating to 25 to 40 tonnes per hectare per year.
Faith Agemo Alaba, a farmer under Ngora Farmers Group, said education and access to inputs are crucial to many women who grow oranges in their backyards to improve their livelihoods.
She said before the sensitisation of farmers in the region, residents under-looked the potential of citrus farming, observing that increased production has enabled them to cater for the basic needs of their households, including school fees.
“I used to get 3-5 bags from my 3-acre orchard, but I can now produce 60-80 bags, from 200 trees. I expect by the end of this year to have 150 bags of oranges. There is a challenge of water shortage, especially during the dry season, but now we have tanks which enable us to harvest water we use to spray our trees,” she said.
Lambert Oede, the chairperson of Ngora Farmer Group, asked the Government and development partners to consider assisting citrus farmers to find market for their yields.
John Baptist Amega, the agricultural officer at Otutur sub-county in Kumi district, attributed the challenge of inadequate market to individual marketing, explaining that individual farmers can hardly attract consistent buyers such as fruit processors.
He encouraged farmers to work through groups to market their produce, noting that collective effort not only increases their bargaining power for a fair price, but can also eliminate the exploitative tendencies of middlemen.
“When you market as an individual, it is easy for middlemen to manipulate you. As a group, you have serious bargaining power,” he said.