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Will Harvest Season Lower Busoga’s High Food Prices?

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By George Bita

Although November kicks off the last major annual harvest season this year, the existing high food prices present a force to reckon with.

According to Elvis Tanaziraba, the Iganga Central Market chairperson, usually, the harvest season brings some relief in terms of commodity prices.

“This is the trend we often experience here. If the market is flooded with fresh produce, the old stock has to be either sold at a cheaper price or be left to get spoilt in the stores,” Tanaziraba told New Vision on Monday.

He added that the option would be to store until the harvest season is over, but that that is not possible given the poor storage facilities in place.

Erusania Batala, a sweet potato farmer at Bukoova village, Luuka district, expressed optimism that the current harvest season would fill markets with locally grown sweet potatoes.

He said due to scarcity, the locals have been buying sweet potatoes expensively from traders ferrying them in from parts of Teso sub-region.

“The sweet potatoes from Teso were going for between sh150,000 to sh200,000 per 100kg sack due to high transport costs caused by hiked oil prices. Our fresh harvest is bound to change all this,” Batala said.

Henry Kabulo, the Bugiri district education officer, shared a similar view, saying boarding schools often take advantage of harvest seasons to stock produce for the next term.

“It is a period of unlimited supply, hence making the food cheaper. Those with select suppliers allow them to ferry in the food items on credit and then spread the maize plus beans to dry out properly on school premises during holidays,” he said.

Genesis

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the resultant increase in global oil prices impacted negatively

on transport, as well as on value-addition to farm produce, thereby pushing prices up.

A kilogramme of Irish potatoes that by March this year cost sh1,000 at Jinja Central Market, shot up to twice the amount by October. Similarly, maize flour shot up from sh1,500 to sh3,000 in the same time frame.

Farmers upbeat

Edisa Nabirye, a farmer at Nawandala village, Iganga district, said her maize, beans and soya beans, grown on three acres of farmland, were ready for harvest.

“I often deploy hired labour to help me bring in the harvest for storage. My plan is to keep a good quantity for sale during the post-harvest season when the price is comparatively good,” Nabirye said.

She said even if nowadays a kilogramme of maize goes at sh2,000 on average, with beans at sh3,000, the price may go lower as the bountiful harvest hits the market.

“Unfortunately, it may not be possible with middlemen buying and storing away the produce in bulk. These businessmen most times hoard the produce to cause an artificial scarcity and profit from it,” Nabirye said.

Augustine Walwawo, a farmer from Namavundu A village, Budomero sub-county, Kaliro district, said his fruit trees had a good supply of oranges, tangerines and watermelon for the market.

“The low supply made fruits to be expensive at Kaliro market. I believe supplies from the farms will change the status quo and give customers some relief in these times of high inflation,” Walwawo said.

Musa Kasone, a farmer at Budooma village, Luuka district, said his pineapples had matured at the right time when the demand on the market was high.

“The buyers are already looking for fruits from the farm gate. I have so far sold to customers from as far as South Sudan and Kenya,” he said.

Kasone also thinks the season’s supply is one sure way of bringing down the soaring food prices being experienced nationwide and beyond.

Charles Kiwanuka, an urban farmer from Busei parish in Iganga municipality, attributed the current high food prices to increase in fuel prices globally.

“Our production as farmers may have a less significant impact on overall commodity prices if there isn’t a noticeable drop in oil prices. Transport from farmlands to markets has to be taken into account,” Kiwanuka said.

He said once the forces contributing to the global dilemma, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict are solved and oil prices stabilise, the resultant lower oil prices will do the magic in lowering food prices.

Ruth Mutesi, an urban farmer from Namutumba town council, Namutumba district, said she had harvested five 100kg sacks of ground nuts from her farm in Bulange parish this season.

“I am going to dry the seeds and then sell them. However, I do not sell off everything since I have to store something for those days of limited supply when they can be bought at a higher price,” Mutesi said.

According to her, currently, a kilogramme of dry groundnuts costs between sh5,000 and sh6,000, but could reach sh7,000 in times of limited supply.

Government input

Apollo Musita, the Namutumba district production officer, revealed that local farmers received a boost from the agriculture ministry recently, which is enabling them to produce more.

“The support came through the Agriculture Cluster Development Project (ACDP), whereby beneficiary farmers’ groups accessed farm inputs. These include seeds, fertilisers, pest control products and on-farm storage facilities,” he revealed.

Musita argued that the move to modernise agriculture would assist farmers maximise profits.

Henry Naabye, the Namutumba district planner, noted that the government arrangement is part of a nationwide $150m World Bank project targeting 450,000 smallholder farm households in 42 districts.

Moses Batwala, the Jinja district chairperson, observed that the provision of smartphone or computer controlled tools has helped farmers market their produce effectively.

“Each beneficiary farmer was given a Personal Identification Number (PIN) and could easily be identified and linked to the most reliable markets. This project blocks shrewd middle men, who initially reaped big from farmers’ sweat,” he said.

Cautious consumption

Apollo Musita, the Namutumba district production officer, called upon farmers to be careful about the way they handle the produce harvested this season to cater for the future demand.

“The best thing a person can do is to consume carefully, well aware that any scarcity in future would lead to increased prices. It is time to make good use of the available storage room, to keep the harvest safe,” he advised.

Elijah Kagoda, the Kaliro district chairperson, warned, especially maize farmers, to avoid the common practice of selling the entire harvest to buyers from neighbouring countries.

“The trend has been of trailer trucks parking in the area and carrying out bulk purchases. At the end of the day, there is little or nothing left, causing food shortages that affect our people,” Kagoda said.

Henry Naabye, the Namutumba district planner, encouraged locals to avoid food wastage, saying some families even cook more than they can consume for the particular meal because they have a plentiful supply.

“The economic principles of demand and supply will always apply in daily life. Food prices may go down a bit, but as the harvest ends and supply dwindles, we will again face a noticeable rise,” he said.

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