Teso. For every farmer, the joy that follows a long season of great toil in the fields is not just a good harvest, it is the monetary benefits that accrue from it.
However, this relished dream in Teso Sub-region is far from being realised due to the low farm gate prices that have left farmers in pain.
The sight of mature maize, millet, sorghum, green gram gardens and groundnuts present a productive harvest in the sub-region but amid all this good yield, a sense of frustration hangs all over due to the fluctuating crop prices which presents a state of hopelessness to the farmers as a result of high commodity prices for basic needs against low prices for farm crops.
Like elsewhere in Uganda, agriculture is the mainstay of many communities in Teso, becoming the major source of income. It pays for health, education and meets family needs.
But the ever fluctuating farm gate prices are threatening the very existence of communities as prices for products have hit all-time low, making it hard for residents to pay for their health bills and tuition, among others.
Mr John Sitati Cherot, a father of six in Agule Village, Pingire Sub-county, Serere District, like many others is affected by the low prices for farm produce yet he is faced with the reality of skyrocketing prices of basic needs.
Mr Cherot says the net production cost farm earnings outstrip the returns by far that most farmers like him are counting losses.
“I cultivated six acres of maize, each garden cost me Shs100,000 for hybrid seeds, weeding per acre was Shs350,000, now with each kilogramme of maize going for Shs200-300, I cannot raise Shs3m which I invested yet we have to take care of children and other basics,” he says.
Putting it into perspective, Mr Cherot says for a farmer to be able to buy the cheapest bar of soap which is Shs2,400, one has to sell eight kilogrammes of maize at Shs300, 12Kgs of ordinary sorghum at the current price of Shs200 a kilogramme.
“This means every month at the current maize price, I will sell 32Kgs of maize to be able to afford four bars of soap, let alone other basics such as medication and school fees,” he says.
Mr Cherot also says the current prices indicate a sharp fall compared to last year’s prices during the same time when maize sold at Shs800 per kilogramme, millet Shs1,200 and sorghum at Shs800 a kilogramme.
To Mr James Okello, a farmer at Damasiko Village, Arapai Sub-county, Soroti District, the farmer’s plight has always been the happiness of the middlemen and produce buyers.
“They (middlemen and produce buyers) have the money at their disposal, they buy cheaply and at the time of scarcity, they in turn sell back at inflated prices,” he says.
Like many others, Mr Okello says he bought hybrid Green Gram seed at Shs300,000 for his five acre piece of land but upon harvesting last month, the prices had plummeted to Shs1,000 from the previous Shs3,000 per kilogramme of Green Gram as of last year.
“Yet in spite of the falling prices, the cost of labour and spraying leaves me at the edge of making losses if I sold at the current price,” Mr Okello adds.
He says no deliberate action or policy has ever been implemented to stabilise prices for farm products, as it is with essential commodities on the market whose prices keep increasing.
“As a poor farmer, I do not have a hospital that offers free services, I visit the same butcher, our children all eye best schools, use the same public transport services with the privileged,” Mr Okello says, adding that it is hurting that the price of maize flour remains at Shs1,200.
According to Mr Martin Nabudere, a produce buyer at Kengere Grain Millers, there is a lot of unpolished grain in millions of metric tonnes across the country, thus creating much supply compared to consumption.
“The excess rains fought off the impact of the armyworm allowing the grains from millet, sorghum, maize and other crops to blossom. This dictates the prices at which we buy because there is no demand currently,” Mr Nabudere says.
“We thought because of lots of grain, we would have bought maize at Shs200, but farmers cried out and we increased to Shs300 per kilogramme. For millet, we thought we would buy at Shs600 per kilogramme, farmers cried out, we slightly topped up with Shs50,” he says, adding that they cannot buy beyond that.
“What our esteemed farmers should also have in mind is the transport costs, fuel has gone up, equally is the wear and tear, these are some of the factors we also put into consideration when setting up prices for crop products,” Mr Nabudere says.
“South Sudan, which was one of our markets, is in disarray, this means our market scope is just Uganda for now,” Mr Moses Emugu Eroju, the LC3 chairperson of Katine Sub-county, Soroti District, says.
He adds that the unstable prices present a difficult situation for farmers to fight poverty since the petty cash they earn meets only basics.
“As local leaders, mechanisms to refrain middlemen, produce buyers from exploiting farmers must be tabled in Parliament by having uniform farm gate prices, otherwise the exploitation is here to stay,” Mr Emugu says.
Product Old price per Kg New price
Maize Shs800 Shs300
Sorghum Shs800 Shs200
Cassava chips Shs800 Shs200
Millet grain Shs1,200 Shs650
Green gram Shs3,000 Shs1,000
Groundnuts Shs4,500 Shs3,000