Authors: Joy M.B. Tukahirwa, Rick Kamugisha, Ocan Bosco, Odour Walter
In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic leading to catastrophic loss of human life and harms to livelihoods across the world, the Government of Uganda (GOU) announced a strict national lockdown effective 1 April 2020 in order to reduce virus transmission, wider spread, and related consequences.
The agricultural sector is particularly affected and faces unprecedented challenges that threaten food security and nutrition at the household, community, and country levels. It is against this background
that the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) released official guidelines on 28 March 2020 to assist with managing the situation. Farming communities were encouraged to take
advantage of the current rains, plant and manage crops accordingly, and look after livestock and
fisheries so as to ensure their food security, nutrition security, and income during and after the
pandemic. In order to capture some emerging impacts of the epidemic, the Uganda Landcare Network
(ULN), in partnership with the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies
(WOCAT), conducted some quick interviews by phone and in-person between 27 and 29 April 2020.
A total of 19 interviews were conducted, comprising randomly selected farmers and extension agents
(10 men, 9 women) from farming communities in nine districts of Northern Uganda within the IFAD-funded project on scaling-up Sustainable Land Management (SLM).
Farming generally continues unrestricted as the government guidelines advise against abandoning
cultivation, and instead recommend that farmers take advantage of the long rains to begin planting.
Despite the appearance of abundant family labour due to school closures and other closures freeing up
time for farming, the lockdown and related COVID-19 restrictions have had the following impacts:
Group labour is constrained due to rules on social distancing;
Hiring labour is difficult because of low farm-level incomes and farmers’ low purchasing power;
The cost of inputs (seeds, fertilizers, farm tools, etc.) has skyrocketed due to increased transport
costs and lack of access to stockists who are mostly located in towns far away from farms;
As a result of closures, many farmers have lost their most important buyer – schools – for key
crops including maize, beans, rice, bananas, sweet potatoes, and horticultural crops such as
tomatoes, onions, and greens;
Restrictions on social gatherings such as weddings, meetings, hotels, bars and restaurants mean the
loss of other major markets for farm produce;
Finally, there are no market surveys that inform small farmers and enable them to bargain
better prices. Consequently, farmgate prices remain very low and middlemen are taking advantage of farmers by buying low and selling produce at higher-than-usual prices to markets
inflated by pandemic fears.
“A kilo of beans bought for 3,000–3,500 UGX during the COVID-19 restrictions at farm level is now
sold for 4,000–5,000 UGX or more in the markets – depending on the distance, quality, and transport
costs – with yellow variety beans sold at 6,000 UGX in Kitgum town”.
-Ocan Bosco, extension agent in Kitgum District
Another emerging challenge is that of accumulated agricultural produce with a low shelf life, demanding innovative post-harvest practices and new processing opportunities. At the same time, there are reports of many mouths to feed in villages due to heavy urban to rural migration, driven especially by families’ worries about their ability to meet their needs in urban settings during lockdown as well as fear of lockdown-related crime. Many poor rural families currently need food rations, however, these rations are restricted to urban poor. Loss of farm-level income will lead to reduced savings and loss of investment in efforts to improve and innovate smallholder farming, marketing, and processing, with long-term implications of increased poverty.
“We used to save on a weekly/monthly basis and keep this money for lending or in case of emergencies like death, buying inputs, etc. Farmers could borrow at low interest depending on the problem. This is not happening because people have no money and are not working. This will affect our farmers more in terms of food production and security even when the restrictions are lifted”. -Mr and Mrs Orem, farmers in Pader District “Farmers’ sources of income have been greatly affected. Village markets are not operating since
social gathering was banned. Village savings (village sacco) have been closed – this was the source
of cash/borrowing for small businesses”,-Lawlence Ogwal, Ngetta Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute.
Nonetheless, a few farmers are developing some coping mechanisms including short-term bulk pooling of produce and collectively organizing to access better marketing opportunities, increase their bargaining power, and purchase inputs at reasonable prices.
Read full article here: Overview_Impact_of_Covid_in_Northern_Uganda_final