News of drastic drop in prices of maize should not spell doom for rural farmers but open up debate on value addition to our agro-products to save them. Several questions have been asked why government cannot step in buy up the excess grains at fairer prices to save our farmers. Or why government cannot clean up and export the surplus harvests. Yet many more have asked what has become of Uganda’s silos to store grains for scarcer times.
But this overabundance and fall in prices demand renewal of Uganda’s post-harvest handling and food reserve strategies. Besides, the uncertainties should alert us to the need to revive farmers’ cooperative to market as a group.
However, in the short-term, local and central governments should see the gluts as opportunities. They should educate rural farmers and save them from being exploited by middlemen. Besides, the farmers should be assisted to add value to farm products process grains, pack as flour and sell for more profits.
These measures should save the farmers, lest they abandon maize growing as they did for cotton, then coffee, and now maize as sources of livelihoods. But these demand that farmers first be protected from being cheated at farm gates. And it should be now that government steps in to support farmers, stabilise prices, buy out their produce and store for scarcer times. Or organise co-operatives and assist them produce and market quality agro-products.
But for this to happen, there must be channels to buy up, store, and sell later at more competitive prices for farmers to reap more. This would require district production, commercial officers, and extension workers to educate farmers of risks of selling to middlemen at cheap farm gate prices. This transaction gives our farmers quick gain but not much profit margins because this denies them benefits of storage, open and competitive markets.
Yet the farmers could do better sell later in bulk and at better negotiated prices. For instance, in 1970s, government bought produce when plentiful, stocked up the district foods and beverages stores, and released to the public at fairer prices in times of scarcity. And this ensured better returns to farmers and food security.
Even now, government should ensure the extra harvests and low prices benefit grain growers. For instance, there are immense opportunities for grains in South Sudan owing to the ongoing war. The government should seize this opportunity, buy out the surplus grains, clean up, and seek out World Food Programme to supply displaced South Sudanese and refugees in Uganda. Uganda did this with WFP in 1990s and early 2000s, and so can it again do it to save our surplus harvests.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor