Farmers say failure of the project has forced most of them to revert to rain-fed agriculture, in addition to fetching water from deep canals to water their crops. Dan Komakech explores what could have gone wrong.
The reconstruction of Agoro Irrigation Scheme is in limbo due to technical defects that are yet to be corrected. The multi-billion shilling scheme, covering about 675ha along Okura River in Tumanun village, Laruc parish in Agoro sub-county, Lamwo district, was part of a presidential directive meant to benefit over 2,500 members of a local farmers’ co-operative society.
David Oola, the chairperson of Agoro Self Help Irrigation Scheme Cooperative Society (ASHISCS), said it was envisaged that the project would transition farmers from the use of traditional ways of irrigation to adopting modern agricultural practices.
He said the beneficiary farmers mainly grew rice, wheat, barley, maize, sugarcane, cabbage, tomatoes, chilli, eggplants and onions.
However, they would manually fetch water from the river or use sandbags to divert water into their fields. Oola said the irrigation scheme was first constructed in the early 1970s.
In the 2011/2012 financial year, the Government, through the water and environment ministry, with funding from the African Development Bank, injected over sh29b to reconstruct the irrigation scheme.
This was under the Farm Income Enhancement and Forestry Conservation Project. Dott Services Limited was contracted to undertake the reconstruction of the scheme to include a reservoir dam, several tertiary and secondary canals along the fields and livestock watering troughs.
The scheme was completed in the 2013/2014 financial year and subsequently commissioned and handed over to ASHISCS, which was holding it in trust for the beneficiary farmers.
Farmers’ hopes dashed
Ever since the completion of the project in 2014 and the defect liability period in 2016, the scheme has not lived up to expectations of elevating farmers from poverty.
The beneficiary farmers claim the project has not helped them in realising any positive impact on their ventures due to numerous technical glitches emanating from its reconstruction.
Nickson Akena, a member of ASHISCS, said during the reconstruction, the contractor dug deep secondary water canals that are unable to adequately discharge and distribute water into their farms.
“We implored the contractor to level the fields to facilitate surface irrigation, but this was not successful and many farmers resisted the plans for fear that it would deprive their gardens of the top most fertile soils,” he said.
Elda Omony Akello, a local farmer, said the situation has forced most of them to revert to rain-fed agriculture, in addition to fetching water from deep canals to irrigate their crops.
She said irrigation is proving to be unaffordable for ordinary farmers, while those who can afford to use mechanised irrigation infrastructure, including fuel-powered generator water pumps, have incurred high operational costs to procure the equipment and cope with the current rising fuel prices.
Moses Omach, another farmer, said he abandoned the scheme and opted to lease out all his farmland so as to embark on an alternative income-generating activity because his family can no longer afford to irrigate their 10-acre piece of land.
Richard Cyrus Komakech, the Lamwo district production officer, said numerous pleas to authorities by the farmers have been in vain.
He said in 2012, the water and environment ministry conducted an assessment of the scheme before contracting GETS Technical Services Limited (GTSL) to fix the technical glitches. GTSL was supposed use pipes that would elevate the water levels for easy access by farmers.
GTSL, which was contracted to undertake the rehabilitation works valued at sh6b, had its contract terminated after it was accused of doing shoddy work and abandoning the site.
Last week, a team of irrigation experts from Ambitious Construction Company Ltd, led by Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo under the directive of President Yoweri Museveni, visited Lamwo on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the status of the irrigation scheme.
Owiny-Dollo said the President was concerned about persistent reports that the project was not meeting its intended objectives.
“This prompted him (Museveni) to send this company that has successfully constructed three irrigation schemes in the country to identify and address the possible barriers affecting the Agoro Irrigation Scheme,” he said.
The executive director of Ambitious Construction Company, Ramji Shwaminarayan, said after the assessment, they will develop a comprehensive report and recommend solutions that will be presented to the President for the subsequent revival of smooth operations at the scheme.
WAter ministry speaks out
Eng. Gilbert Kimanzi, the acting director of water development at the water and environment ministry, said in three weeks’ time, they will unveil a new well-experienced contractor who shall rectify the issues.
He, however, revealed that the previous contractor did not pay some of the locals that were working for him.
“We had paid him a substantial amount of money and he owes us. We shall ensure that we recover this money because he is the one who abandoned the project,” Kimanzi added.
Leaders speak out
Anthony Jalon Abuuka, the Lamwo County legislator, said the scheme has not yielded returns because its intended objectives, including increasing productivity and household incomes, have not been realised. He said risks of food insecurity have also increased due to the failure of the scheme.
“The expectations of farmers of achieving bumper harvests like the case was before the scheme was reconstructed have been lost,” Abuuka said.
Michael Odokonyero, the Agoro sub-county speaker, said commercial agriculture has also been paralysed due to the defects on the scheme and farmers have instead gone into subsistence crop production.
Additional reporting by Nelson Mandela Muhoozi
PHOTO CAPTION: A team led by Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo during the inspection of secondary canals in Agoro Irrigation Scheme. Photo by Dan Komakech