Rice farmers in eastern and northern parts of the country are in tears over delayed release of money amounting to shs 10billion which is a revolving fund provided by the government to support rice farmers.
The money is meant to support over 10,000 rice farmers under the Eastern Uganda Rice Program with the sole aim of improving household wealth.
Following the MoU between Government through Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, NAADS and Microfinance Support Centre (MSC) on one hand and Zues Agro Ltd on the other, a copy of which this newspaper has seen, the MSC is obligated to provide fund management service by channeling money to farmers.
To-date, no penny has been released since the commencement of the programme in August last year, and yet according to the official communication from Ministry of Finance issued by Secretary to Treasury to MSC boss Peter Mujuni dated 3rd August 2020, Shs 10billion had been allocated to the farmers.
“I wish to inform you that the budgetary allocation of Ushs 100billion to Emyooga and Ushs 27.7billion for your institution has been released during this 1st Quarter of FY 2020/21. Additionally, Ushs 50billion has been allocated and released to your institution through supplementary funding.
The purpose of this letter therefore is to propose that Ushs 10billion is allocated to the Eastern Uganda Rice Program in line with the MoU to buffer local rice production and also support our import substitution drive, reads part of the letter of which this newspaper has seen.
Efforts to reach the MSC executive director Peter Mujuni were futile as he kept his phone busy by the time of publishing this story.
As a follow-up on the farmers’ money, on February 17 this year, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, Pius Wakabi Kasaijja wrote to the MSC boss requesting the release of Shs8.2 balance meant for the supply of rice seeds to farmers. Apparently, only Shs 1.8billion had been released.
“This is, therefore, to advise that you prioritize and release the balance of shs8.2 Billion to Zeus Agro Limited to enable them to supply the remaining seeds to farmers in Pallisa, Budaka, Butebo, Butaleja, Ngora, Namutumba, Mayuge, Luuka, Kumi, and Bukedea,” Wakabi’s letter partly reads.
Farmers count losses
Farmers are counting their losses due to the delay by the Microfinance Support Centre to release the funds. The farmers in east and northern parts of the country were told to open their land ready for the planting season, some having borrowed money and hired tractors to open land waiting for seed to be supplied by Zeus.
Santa Joyce Laker, the chairperson of the Atiak Out-growers, says: “Following meetings in Ministry of Finance with Hon Kasaija [Matia] and Mr Muhakanizi [Secretary to Treasury] in 2019 and 2020 for Government of Uganda to support rice production through loans which will be a revolving fund, we entered our agreement with Zeus for offtake and supply of seed pack based on an MoU between Government and Zeus and Microfinance Support Centre( MSC).
We subsequently held meetings with MSC staff in May and July 2020 where we were given requirements we submitted and told to open land, we did and due to the delay to receive seed, we missed the season,” says Santa.
Santa says that the Atiak farmers lost about shs75million for land opening and another shs340million for crop failure.
The farmers, who are threatening to sue MSC and other parties, demand that their seeds are released immediately; compensation for land opening for this second time of Shs90million due to delay occasioned by MSC to enable farmers open; and
payment of legal fees.
David Ebong, a prominent mobiliser of farmers under the program in Lango sub-region recounts that over 5,000 farmers from the Lango sub-region are set to miss out again this year, as the planting season seems to come to wind after April.
Ebong wrote a letter to Ministry of Finance officials particularly Minister Kasaija, Keith Muhakanzi and Patrick Ocailap [Director Economic Affair] on April 15, 2021, bring to their attention the plight of over 5,000 farmers who had opened 6,700 acres of land in the first season. He says he is still awaiting a response.
“On January 27th,2021 I wrote to MSC and availed the list of the farmers from 44 farmers groups and cooperatives with over 7,000 acres of land ready for rice growing. My pleas weren’t heard,” said Ebong in his letter to top Finance officials.
Sounding rather agitated, Ebong said in the missive: “MSC must be radically reformed and the officials held accountable to reverse the unacceptable relationship that dis-empower and keep smallholder farmers locked up in chronic poverty.”
The farmers are now left with no option but to storm statehouse demanding for a meeting with President Museveni. During his campaigns in northern Uganda, Museveni promised action against the delayed release of funds.
According to the Director Zues Agro Ltd, Elizabeth Kasenene Rumanyika, MSC released shs1.57b in January 2021 and another Shs303m in February to Zeus Agro Ltd. This release was used to provide seed packs, and fertilizers to 980 farmers growing rice in 3,660 acres provided by Zeus.
Kasenene says that farmers had planted the seeds that had germinated well. “The seeds in the nursery bed germinated well and would mature by April 2021. The expected yield is 2.5 tonnes of rice per acre. She said they expect to harvest 10,500 tonnes of rice from what the farmers have planted.
Who has been left out?
What needs urgent address is the plight of 1077 farmers who have secured 4000 acres of land in the districts of Apac, Kwania, Dokolo, Alebtong, and Oyam.
Another batch of 2,000 farmers with 8,000 acres of land from Agago, and an additional 3,000 farmers with 8,000 acres in the districts of Madi Okullu, Koboko, Maracha, Arua, Yumbe, Terego, Packwach, Nebi, and Zombo are also waiting for seeds to plant.
According to Elizabeth Kasenene, these farmers will need a seed pack valued at Shs30b that wasn’t included.
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