By Moses Sserwanga
It’s been a long journey for the farmers of the remote district of Mayuge . They have had to withstand big challenges that included among others poor seed varieties, gender based violence due to mistrust among family members, poor farming methods, effects of climate challenge and the cheating middlemen who pay farmers low prices for their farm produce.
Now organized in a growing farmers’ association, the Mayuge farmers who were hitherto, largely producing for the homesteads are now engaging in large scale farming and realizing positive results of their hard earned labour.
They have since formed the Mayuge District Farmers Association, (MDFA) which has grown from a membership of 500 in 2000 to 20,000 to-date. Mr. Paul Ojikan the Coordinator of the Mayuga District Farmers Association who is also the Chairman of the National Soya bean Network the Association says that that the registered members work in 666 groups with 30 members each in eight sub-counties of Malongo, Kityerera, Imanyiro, Bukaboli, Buwaya, Busakira ,Kigandalo, and Mpungwe.
Originally formed to provide agricultural advisory services to improve food security at household levels for the members, MDFA has now organized smallholder farmers into marketing groups which are producing cash crops for particular markets. Two main crops, particularly the soya bean and maize were promoted for large scale commercial farming after a baseline survey which was conducted in 2007.
“ When farmers improved food security at the household level there was a surplus which required markets and thus the need to engage in farming as a business. But at the time, farmers faced challenges of limited access to; improved seeds , regular agricultural advisory services , lack of quality assurance facilities and reliable sustainable market for their farm produce and regular access to market information, “ Ojikan explains .
So we sought for partners to help address the challenges which were hindering farmers’ productivity. “That’s why the leadership of Mayuge District Farmers’ Association made a decision to seek for support from aBi-Trust which last year gave the Association an additional Shs. 444m grant to work on maize production, value addition and collective marketing . On its part the association had to contribute shs. 160M for a piece of land where a maize mill and offices will be erected to add value to the farmers crop and coordinate the activities of MDFA, respectively , “ Ojikan said.
With aBi-Trust ‘s support, , major interventions were put in place which included among others , access to improved seeds, agricultural advisory services, market information from NARO which were distributed at the group level.
Extension field were also recruited to mobilise and train farmers in agronomic and post harvest handling practices . Marketing committees of 5 people were set up in each group to carry out market research so that farmers get a fair price for the agricultural produce.
This offered a good opportunity for the farmers to bargain for a good price. . Between 2007-2013, at least 5,130 tons of soya beans were produced and sold by the members of the Mayuge District Farmers Association.
Farmers have since been encouraged to grow maize on a large scale because the huge demand for the grain on the market. But as farmers of Mayuge engaged in large sale farming, challenges emerged which needed immediate solutions to maintain a good maize value chain.
Other benefits from the aBi-Trust grant to the farmers of Mayuge include, training in agronomy, use of improved high yield maize and soya bean seeds, modern farming practices and proper utilization of farm inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. The association has also set up demonstration sites at group levels for farmers to appreciate and apply new farming technologies and methods that will help boost soya beans and maize production.
Along the maize and soya bean value chain, with the interventions supported by aBiTrust, Ojikan said the farmers have also been trained in gender related concepts where families, plan together, budget together, farm together and share the proceeds of their farm produce together. “Through the gender project , women have been given an opportunity to participate productively in agriculture to benefit both themselves and their respective families.
The old traditional practices where women were neglected or their contribution to farming was not recognised are now being abandoned to ensure equality, transparency and accountability at the family level. This has greatly improved relations, reduced tensions and gender based violence and as a result boosted production and family incomes.
With support from aBi-Trust and savings of the association Ojikan said that the association has acquired, computers, 3 motorcycles, digital camera, 300 tumplines , 7 moisture meters, 4 standard weighing scales, 10 driers among others.
Demonstration centers have been set up where high yielding seeds are multiplied and 80% of the improved seed varieties re-distributed to farmers. Because there is increased farm produce, MDFA has had to link farmers to better markets by providing information about prices for agricultural produce on a regular basis. “ We collaborate with market service providers like Fit- Uganda, farm Gain and Agrinet to get accurate information about the prevailing market prices. This helps farmers to sell their produce at the right price and cut out the cheating middlemen,” Ojikan explains.
MDFA is also emphasizing on quality assurance which involves , getting the right seeds, engaging in better farming practices and post harvest handling to ensure quality crop yields for better rewarding markets for farmers products.
Indeed, MDFA has put in place structures where Community Change Agents (CCAs) who double as marketing committee members provide farmers with information on the prevailing market prices on a regular basis.
Village Saving and Loan Associations , (VSLA) have also been set up to promote the culture of saving and investment among farmers. There are now 300 VSLA in Mayuge where members save and loan to each other to increase farm production. They farmers also collectively market their produce at established bulking centers and as a result have a better bargaining power which fetches them better prices Again, aBi-Trust’s support has come in handy here , with the VSLA members being trained in financial literacy on how to keep records . Each VSLA is given ledger books, a stamp, inkpad and passbooks to keep proper accounts.
Through the Mainstreaming Gender in Soya Bean Value Chain project, families are trained to work
Together and realize and appreciate the role of women, youths and men in sustainable agricultural production with a focus on farming as a business.
But all is not rosy for the farmers of Mayuge. They still face big challenges like the effects of climate change which results in prolonged drought,. The cheating middlemen still exist and the many sugarcane plantations are a threat to food security in Mayuge.