By Spy Uganda
Banana farmers in Uganda’s western region have expressed frustration over the current spell of low produce prices that threatens to drive many out of business.
The farmers say that this is caused by the current situation of COVID-19 lock down since most of their clients reduced on consumption since they also lacked customers to feed mentioning closure of hotels and other services that were closed by the government.
Matooke production has over the years transformed livelihoods across the region, with more people depending on the food crop to earn a living, mostly farmers in the areas of Buhweju, Bushenyi, Ibanda, Isingiro, Kiruhura, Mbarara, Ntungamo Rubirizi and Rwampara, among others.
Jomo Mugabe, a renowned farmer in Rukindo, Mbarara Municipality, maintains a 70-acre banana plantation. However, is bitter that he is receiving “peanuts” from the sale of matooke from his farm, as banana prices in the region continue to plummet.
“The price of bananas has reduced from Shs 20,000 a bunch, to between Shs 1,500-4,000 at farm gate. At such prices we are not making any profit. We cannot even afford to pay workers,” he said.
Mugabe, who harvests more than 10,000 bunches of banana every three weeks and employs 15 workers, believes that if the low prices persist, many farmers will quit growing the crop that is a staple for millions of Ugandans.
“I have been farming for many years but have reached a level of failing because the prices of bananas have reduced so much. If it persists like this then it means that we are going to get away from farming,” he said.
However, according to Asaph Muhangi, the Chairperson Rwampara district, the drop in prices is simply a result of market forces.
“People have grown bananas on a large scale meaning that the supply is high and demand low,” he explained. This surplus production, Muhangi said, coupled with competition from other food commodities on the local, has resulted in low prices for bananas.
Promote export, value addition
Muhangi proposed export promotion as a possible solution, saying bananas are in demand on the world market, including in countries like China, India and the USA.
“We had suggested that government should import coolers and Germany was willing to provide them, but the project proposal failed somewhere along the way. As we speak, we cannot export fresh matooke even up to Kenya,” he said.
He also called for increased investment in value addition for banana on a large scale, saying the local processing facilities are inadequate to absorb the available supply.
“The banana factory we have in Nyaruzinga Bushenyi produces very little compared to the amount of matooke we have in the region. Can you imagine the whole regional banana factory processes only one lorry per week?” he asked.
Muhangi further urged farmers to take charge of their own marketing and avoid brokers and middle men who, he said, tend to offer low prices at farm gate.
“Do not grow your crops waiting for others to trade them for you,” he advised. “If famers like Mugabe took their bananas direct to Kampala, they would not be cheated by the middle men at all,” he explained.
The district Chairman believes that farmer organizations can do more in obtaining more favourable prices and farming conditions for their members.
“We have weak farmer organizations which should be working to reduce production costs by helping farmers obtain inputs equipment, agrichemicals and fertilizers at cheaper rates; but farmer cooperatives are so weak that they cannot even market their own products,” Muhangi said.
Prepare for post COVID-19 opportunities
Chairman Muhangi called upon farmers to prepare to take advantage of the post-COVID-19 period which, he predicts, will come with heightened demand for food.
“I see a bright future for bananas now because this global pandemic is likely to result in a global food crisis,” he said.
However, Mugabe appealed for increased government support if farmers are to benefit from any possible opportunities after the pandemic.
“Government should find ways to support farmers financially, especially those who grow perishable crops. We need low-interest business loans if we are to survive,” he said.