Ugandans need to invest in rainwater harvesting

The UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) No 7c targets reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
It focuses on improved water sources and sanitation facilities. Whether Uganda is closing in on this target remains to be seen, but there are reports suggesting that Uganda has already invested in water infrastructure that now serves about 50 per cent of the population.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics report (2002), the government had constructed several kilometres of piped-water: (4,058 taps), boreholes (17,915), gravitation flow systems (134), shallow wells (4,734) and protected springs (19,029) that only serves 50 per cent of the population.
The report further acknowledges that despite this significant investment in water, a large proportion of the population still has no access to safe, clean water. Water shortage remains a common problem in Kampala and the sight of sewage oozing on streets is common too.
It is therefore vital to ascertain the reality on the ground. It is one thing to install water infrastructure and it is another to have the infrastructure functioning well to serve the intended community. Uganda is endowed with plenty of freshwater that can be obtained from open water bodies (lakes, rivers, streams, springs etc.) and underground aquifers.
The water bodies cover 18.2 per cent of the total land area --241,038 sq km of the country. Uganda receives an average 1375mm of bimodal rainfall annually.
Even semi-arid areas receive an average annual precipitation of about 300mm rainfall. These water systems provide a per capita of 3,600 cubic metres water availability.
In fact, some areas of the country have registered flood conditions that have affected farms, human settlements, peoples’ livelihoods and water and road infrastructure.But despite this apparent abundance, many people still go without sufficient, clean and safe water.
Due to the apparent abundance, water is often taken for granted; that it will always be available, which is not the case. With the changing climate, rainfall is increasingly becoming unpredictable and unreliable; open-water and underground aquifers are continuously declining in volume, thus making water availability a significant challenge in the country. It is, therefore, no longer acceptable to take water abundance for granted.
The paradox is that Ugandans have been accustomed to obtaining water through piped, tap, boreholes, wells and protected spring systems that they do not seem to bother about rainwater.
They allow rainwater to run off after a major torrent and the next hour or day they purchase water at exorbitant prices or travel long distances to fetch clean water. People also buy bottled drinking water at costs ranging from Shs380 to Shs1,000 for 500ml and 1000ml bottles.
In addition, we are so dependent on rain-fed agriculture that we do not bother to harvest and store rainwater for human and animal consumption and to produce crops during the dry seasons.
This calls for a paradigm shift in the way people access and manage water. It does not seem logical or justifiable to watch rainwater flow away untapped and, within a short period complain for lack of water or, buy water exorbitantly.
We can no longer continue to rely on rain-fed agriculture and complain for declining food stocks during traditional rainfall and dry seasons, because it never rained.
Why should we remain entrapped in a culture of buying water at increasingly high prices? Should we continue blaming government for poverty after we have spent our meagre incomes on a product that we could actually have for little or “no cost at all”?
One may argue that this may take away money from the National Water and Sewerage Corporation and water bottling businesses, but rather than compete, this is intended to reinforce efforts to ensure water accessibility and quality assurance for all Ugandans, regardless of social setting.
Put in another way, this is not to negate the need for continued investment in the water sector by government and the private sector, but rather to contribute to household savings and promote the use of the saving for other economic activities.
Communities should inculcate the practice of rainwater harvesting as a means of reducing water costs and supporting irrigation-based and “off-rainfall-season” crop production. Rainwater harvesting systems could range from a few thousand shillings -based on buckets/ jerricans or water tanks that cost Shs1.0-5.0 million and 30million irrigation tanks/ reservoirs. These costs incurred in construction of rainwater harvesting infrastructure can be off-set over time, thus minimising expenditure on water.
Government should invest in rainwater harvesting systems. A policy requiring all buildings to have rainwater harvesting systems should be put in place. In this way, government would in significantly contribute to household poverty reduction, the MDG on water and climate change adaptation.
There is need to promote water use efficiency, equitable allocation of water following a development path that minimises social, economic and political risks and one that supports economic frameworks that promote water-resilient behaviours by villages, towns, cities, industries, farms and pastoral families.
There are already established grassroots organisations like Water Governance Institute that can work with government to create awareness and guide people to implant the rainwater harvest policy.

A Virtual Market Platform(VMP); Integrating appropriate technology for Market Access!!

Henry & Radio Geek-Geofrey Pioneer by practically Building their AFI-VMP Platform.
Over the years AFI-VMP has undergone an evolutionary process from just an idea to a knowledge and skills based institution still in progress. Here we believe humanity is our business. Because 85% of Ugandans are rural based and subsistence farmers,they are poor. AFI is building on the charisma of its innovators to leverage the power of smallholder farmers through adoption of appropriate technologies linking farmers to markets.

Lack of financial resources to help smallholder farmers to bulk their commodities into reasonable volumes, improve quality, collective storage, packing and marketing hampers easier access to markets and competitive prices. By translation this is a key function of rural poverty among rural farmers. Smallholder farmer enteprise groups that are a key component in re-building the cooperative movement are critical in facilitating the reactivation of the Warehouse Receipt System(WRS) for collective storage, improving quality standards and collective marketing of grain such as maize, beans, rice at competitive prices. AFI-VMP will increase the momentum of adoption of the WRS in the country and help facilitate the emergency of village companies engaged in contract farming through techology adoption, market intelligence tracking and dissemination to rural farmers.

AFI-VMP in partnership with Rockford Harris Group and the INSPIRE Consortium has been engaged in farmer institutional development in Eastern & Central Uganda. These agribusiness programs have been geared towards improving farm productivity to avert food insecurity in addition to improving market access for surplus produce. Farmers face both structural and policy challenges that AFI believes can holisitically be addressed through partnerships and innovative approaches.
AFI-VMP is a rural based virtual platform integrating rural telecommunications & community radio technology to link smallholder farmer enterprises to local and regional markets through market intelligence broadcasts.VMP will be integrated with other initiatives gradually taking place in rural communities. AFI in partnership with Rockford Harris Group & AgriNet(U) are working to reactivate the Warehouse Reciept System(WRS) while working with Africa2000 Network on farmer institutional development under the INSPIRE consortium.


Key challenges to agribusiness in rural farming communities is access to markets and information. A traditional lack of trust and awareness of a need for business linkages between value chain actors can be resolved through smallholder farmer group formation and capacity enhancement. This is already underway in areas where AFI has established contacts for the partnership. Enterprise groups have been identified and capacity building underway. Market Access Companies with a social enterprenuership concept are leveraging the power of markets to stimulate development.

What then is the value of AFI-VMP? What are the constituent components of AFI-VMP?

While policy, market, infrastructural challenges still hammper the extension of television and telecom services in rural communities, radio communication technology has proved to have a more rural percolation ability. Atleat each homestead has a radio unit through which information can be accessed. The liberalization of the airwaves has also facilitated the investment in FM Radio a sector that previously was the preserve of the state. A lot is taking shape in rural community therefore. But there are missing links. While commercial FM stations have come up their programming is monetary driven. Community development programs such as sustainable natural resources management which are relevant are given less priority. Farmers have no leverage to influence radio programming and investors are interested in what brings immediate returns-the focus on market forces.

AFI-VMP Project addresses a market information gap building a virtual market platform through which rural farmers can obtain commodity prices in the market. The object is to facilitate the capacity of a farmer to negotiate, participate in farmer group discussions, group formation, capacity enhancement programs so as to leverage bargaining power in the market place.

  • Rural Market Information Centers(RMICs). These could rural telecenter points or kiosks manned by Enterprise Group Team Lead Resource Persons(TLPs) for posting information on bulletin boards.
  • Short Messaging Systems(SMS) due to the emerging extension of the cellphone in rural areas. Telecom peneration of rural communities due to increased competition is pushing telecom services to untapped rural economies. Problem is content and this where AFI-VMP in building its innovation platform to develop content that is relevant to a smallholder farmer.A napshot of commodity prices will be conducted in a basket survey throughout the country on a double entry basis and this information will be synthesized and fed into our online system. A database of cellphone users in farming communities is under-construction and regular update especially for community resource persons and TLPs through market intelligence information will be broadcast in local languages. Uganda today has 5 operating telecos in a cut-throat competition which has translated into opportunities for rural farmers. What remains is how to appropriate that technology with appropriate development content.
  • AFI-VMP Radio. This will be the key component of the platform because of its radius, breadth of information penetration and affordability of access by many farming families.The radio is expected to cover the whole of Eastern Uganda with a population of about 10million people. Eastern Uganda is engaged in grain production with a number odf value chains that lack efficiency to obtain maximum market opportunities. Commodity and value chains such as rice, maize, wheat, beans are critical for the warehouse reciept system. The community radio will run on a 50/50 program protocol where 50% of airtime will be community based development information broadcasting while 50% will be commercial for sustainability of the project. AFI-VMP has already procured low-cost radio equipment from China and installation & testing underway.
  • Warehouse Reciept System(WRS). As farmers get organized into enteprise groups, the market is taking shape in rural Uganda. The collapse of the cooperative movement with the liberalization of the economy isolated smallholder farmers and took away the leverage that comes with resource pooling. The cooperative movement is currently getting reactivated through strategic partnerships between the private sector, civil society and government through policy reforms. AFI-VMP will link farmer enterprise groups to the emerging WRS infrastructure in the region and the country. AFI-VMP has developed contacts with the Uganda Commodities Exchange(UCE), a public institution that licences Warehouse operators & commodity brokers in the country. AFI-VMP has also developed contacts with Post Bank Uganda and other commercial banks that have warehouse reciepting products in the country for tracking information on commodity brokers. This market information will be compiled after verification for broadcasting on the community development program as well as dispatch to RMICs on a daily basis to smallholder farmers and intermediary commodity traders.Our partnerships are to leverage social impact and avoid duplication. AFI-VMP has existing partnerships through the INSPIRE Consortium. Each contituent partner has specialised strength either in community mobilization, technology adoption, soil science & cropping, local governance, finance and business development. AFI-VMP is strategically investing in a component that presents the weakest link in the partnership-Leveraging the bargaining power of a smallholder farmer through market information access using appropriate technology".

Water Harvesting innovations in rural agriculture-The Policy Outlook

The reduction of hunger and poverty depends on improved access to water for poor
rural people
. Progress in community water supplies and agricultural water management (AWM), particularly irrigation, is one of the success stories of the twentieth century. However, it is disappointing to learn that AWM, by far the largest consumer of water in developing countries, has had little impact on world hunger and poverty. The experience of agency- and government-led interventions has not
been good. They often impose ‘blueprint’ methods that ignore important local
issues. A critical gap exists between planning and successful implementation.
Approaches focus on what needs to be done, rather than on how to do it, and they
ignore the complex interactions among individuals, the state and service providers –
as well as their limited capacity to translate plans into practice.

If poor rural people are not to be the losers again in the struggle for declining water resources, a new, pro-poor water management strategy is needed. It must focus more on how to do it, while still addressing what to do, where and with whom. If interventions are to succeed, the new strategy must recognize the changing nature of rural livelihoods and its impact on poverty – a ‘new rurality’ – and the complexity of socio-economic systems, particularly where governance and local and national institutions are weak.
This, in essence, was the objective of the project for Learning and Knowledge on Innovations in Water and Rural Poverty (InnoWat). The InnoWat team has created the kit InnoWat: Water, innovations, learning and rural livelihoods with the expectation that it will be useful to many country programme managers (CPMs) and will enhance organizational/institutional comparative advantage in rural poverty alleviation and water issues. The present text synthesizes two approach papers that together provide the rationale for a new, pro-poor approach to water issues. A series of topic, fact and tool sheets and case studies supports the papers.
I will continuously participate on this forum on many of these issue-based discussion that affect farming rural communities in Uganda and Africa. I also have videos show casing some of these approaches with broad social impact but I am finding it hard to upload them online for public access.

Thanks for the invitation Henry-I have interacted Mr.Kuteesa and his innovation in water harvesting is awesome!

The water-harvesting innovations of Kuteesa Wilberforce, Mukono
Every drop of rainwater is valuable in dry areas. But it is dry areas where a lot of soil erosion occurs and the water is lost. This happens more on steeper slopes. It is to address this problem that Mr Kuteesa Wilberforce, now in his early thirties, has devoted his life. He has done this by developing many examples on his own small farm,in Kiyunga Mukono as well as training many others in his methods.

The Kuteesa family lives on a 22 acre plot in Kiyunga Mukono,Uganda. While this area is in the rain catchment area, access to water for home consumption remains a problem. Being an area for famous for animal rearing, water harvesting remains a vital concept for adoption.

Kuteesa's land is located on a gentle slope of a hill and faces north-north-east. At the top of the hill is a bare rock outcrop, immediately below which is the homestead. The thin, grey soils are predominantly sand. Further down the slope through the yard and across the road into the cropping area, the soils become deeper, darker and less stony. Their clay content increases, especially towards the wetland in the north of the property. The wetland experiences seasonal waterlogging and is the source of a stream.

The ruware
One of the most important resources (one that many would see as a disadvantage) is the large granite dome, or ruware, above the plot. In an uncontrolled situation this rock could cause severe erosion by channelling a lot of water onto the land below it where the Phiri family live and farm. Instead, however, the rock provides the main source of water for the trees, crops and household.

Tiers of stonewall terraces catch and direct the flow of water so that it can sink into the soil and replenish the underground store. The terraces trap grass seeds and create swathes of protective vegetation. Silt traps ensure that the terraces do not get choked with sand.

Most of the water is then channelled into a seasonal unsealed reservoir to encourage efficient infiltration of water into the soil rather than storing it on the surface. Some of the water can be siphoned into a storage tank made from bricks and plaster. Phiri knows that if a season is good enough to fill the reservoir three times then it will have sunk enough water underground to last for two years. Harvesting water at the top of the slope recharges the groundwater so that crops, trees and natural vegetation will have moisture available to them in the soil.

Around the homestead
Below the ruware is the yard where the family lives. The terrain is quite steep, and it is extensively terraced with strong, stone structures built along the contours. The family grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and keeps chickens, ducks and turkeys. The many trees around the homestead thrive on the water harvested higher up, which moves slowly downslope underground.

Some of the water harvested from the ruware can be stored in a tank made from bricks and plaster.

The road
Between the homestead garden and the cropping area is a dust road. Kuteesa has seen the need to control the runoff from this surface and take advantage of it by channelling the water and allowing it to seep into the soil above the fields. He has dug large pits into the soil at the side of the road. Around these pits the indigenous vegetation has visibly benefited. Thick shrubs and small trees are growing, and the grass is dense.

Three wells in the cropping area are fed by the water that is harvested higher up. A network of irrigation pipes and ditches supplies crops with extra water during drought. Some vegetable gardens and a nursery are located close to two of the wells to take advantage of the extra water.

The wetland
In the north of the farm and at the lowest part is a natural wetland that Kuteesa has protected and harnessed for crop cultivation and water storage. He has dug two ponds there. The larger is higher up the slope and contains fish. This overflows into the smaller pond downhill. Reeds, sugarcane, bananas, Kikuyu and elephant grass are planted densely on the banks of the ponds to hold the soil. Kuteesa encourages all farmers he meets to grow reeds. They conserve the soil and are a valuable cash crop, as they are used in basket-weaving. Phiri gives free banana seedlings to the projects that he is involved with.

While he has a diesel motor-pump he advocates for more appropriate technologies that are affordable. He started from a rope-and-washer pump and a tyre pump in the early years of his concept. Water from these seasonal ponds are used for irrigation via the ditches and pipes.

Kuteesa farm has a variety of crops, including his forest of eucalyptus for the carbon credit project. He uses his harvested water for his poutry farm and for domestic consumption in dry periods. Wilberforce is able to produce something all year round: crops in the rainy season, vegetables in the dry season, and bananas all year. The water harvested, conserved and used has a great value for food security and income. Nevertheless, Phiri feels he could make even more use of the water he harvests, for example by digging more ponds.

South Africa's Mbeki & Zimbabwe's Mugabe: Pointers to the dynamics of policy contradictions!

The African National Congress's decision to sack President Thabo Mbeki was described by some South African commentators as "regicide". Certainly it was unprecedented in South African history that a head of state is dismissed in that way. Nor is the ANC the kind of organisation that goes in for this humiliation of its leaders. So why did it happen? Fine, the immediate cause was Mr Mbeki's ongoing feud with his former deputy, the ANC party leader the populist Jacob Zuma. But this was not just a personal vendetta between two men. Behind these events lay two major factors: one political, one personal. Fight with the left Thabo Mbeki, although a former member of the South African Communist Party, had used conventional economic policies to drive the country's development agenda.Tight monetary and budgetary targets had been set and met. The result had been a period of unprecedented economic growth, reaching 5% a year in recent years. In June 1996 Finance Minister Trevor Manuel introduced a neo-liberal economic strategy known as Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear). This included commitments to open markets, privatisation and a favourable investment climate. The ANC is in a formal alliance with two groups on the left, the Communists and the trade union movement, Cosatu. Both were fiercely critical of the strategy and argued that they had been excluded from its development and implementation. In the report to the Communist Party Congress in July 1998 the Central Committee spelled out their objections to Gear in great detail.This concluded: "We remain convinced that Gear is the wrong policy. It was wrong in the process that developed it, it is wrong in its overall strategic conception, and it is wrong in much of its detail. "At the end of the day, we cannot allow our entire transformation struggle to be held hostage by conservative approaches to the budget deficit." In May,2008 Blade Nzimande, General Secretary of the Communist Party wrote: "Despite the many modest gains that our own democracy has made since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, our own self-imposed structural adjustment programme, Gear, failed to make a dent in unemployment (unemployment actually increased dramatically between 1996 and 2006), and eroded the capacity to build a developmental state." These criticisms are not just held by the Communist Party, they are a reflection of the unease on the left as a whole at the policies that Thabo Mbeki adopted. Anger at the president's strategy to tackle the problems of unemployment, in particular, contributed to his downfall. Victims unite All politicians make enemies. That is the nature of the game. But President Mbeki has made more than most. One example should suffice to illustrate the problem. In April 2001 the country's national daily, the Star, had a headline that read "Mbeki plot rocks ANC". President Mbeki had sent his minister of safety and security to accuse three leading members of the party of plotting to oust him. The accused - former ANC secretary-general, Cyril Ramaphosa and two former provincial premiers, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa ­- were among the party's most respected figures. All three were men who had driven to seek their fortunes in business after being marginalised by Mr Mbeki. To this day there is no clear explanation of why these extraordinary charges were made. Nelson Mandela himself emerged from retirement to say that he held all three in "high esteem". The Mail and Guardian newspaper commented at the time that it was a strategy worth of Joseph Stalin and said: "Many observers have dismissed the plot theories as a strategy to warn off potential competitors with ambitions to challenge Mbeki's leadership." No evidence was ever led against them, no charges were laid and the matter was swept under the carpet. However, it was certainly not forgotten. Today Mathew Phosa is the ANC Treasurer General, one of the top party posts. Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale are members of the National Executive. Their names, along with those of Zwelinzima Vavi, leader of the trade unions in Cosatu and Blade Nzimande of the Communist Party, have been cited in the South African press as among those who wielded the knife against Thabo Mbeki.

Does democracy have a face in the differences to Zimbabwe's power structure that keeps Mugabe strongly in charge? South Africa faces the same structural challenges on land as Zimbabwe. Mbeki's quiet diplomacy on Zimabwe coupled with thi ANC internal revolt from the Zuma camp, a non-compromising western politicoburo against Mugabe exposed Mbeki. While Mugabe's land distribution policy re-evented him among the peasant Zimbabweans in the immediate and short term, Mbeki's policies alienated his ANC support due to over-expecation.Land ownership in South Africa remains a hot political issue. Condemning Mugabe woould have accelerated Mbeki's fall due to the organizational strength of ANC despite the political capital that he would have gannered from the US,Australia, Newsland & Britain. As it turns out, Mbeki's time for the curtain to fall was up.

Economic growth does not solve a poor man’s woes!

UGANDA has registered numerous successes in building her economy. The economy is currently “growing at an astronomical rate” of 8.9% per annum and this is one of the highest rates of growth in the world. However, the country’s economy boasts of the dominant 68% of the population solely engaged in a hand-to-mouth production! By implication, there is poverty amidst this highly acclaimed progress. Uganda has been ambitiously pursuing policies for achieving economic growth over the last 20 years. Some of these policies include curbing inflation that comprise; reduction in liquidity, practising fiscal discipline through reduced public expenditure in health and education; attracting foreign investors and enhancing export performance and controlling the capital inflows, among others. Uganda is experiencing an inflation rate at 13.7% (Bank of Uganda, July 2008) and this is attributed to exogenous shocks especially increases in prices of energy particularly petroleum products. It has not been so uncommon for the ordinary people to complain about high commodity prices for basic goods like salt, soap, paraffin and especially food which have almost doubled. This fuss was not only Uganda’s experience but the world over. Paradoxically, the measurement of inflation is based on “underline” which technically means that there is no consideration of food prices, yet it is foodstuffs that experience most price volatility. It is more ironical that it is the low income earners that spend their largest proportion of their incomes on food. Apparently, the local person suffers the full brunt of price escalation. The implication is that the control of inflation could have been more rewarding if the measures addressed “headline” inflation i.e. addressing price escalation including foodstuffs. It should be noted that macro-economic growth does not benefit the ordinary poor especially in Africa where most economies are agrarian largely dominated by subsistence producers (hand-to-mouth). This means that these people are spectators in the market system since they basically have nothing to put on the market. But if the poor remain excluded from the mainstream economic growth, the well-off will pay more in social costs associated with increasing poverty and joblessness. The cost will manifest through high expenses on personal security and crime prevention.As Robert McNamara, the former president of the World Bank and American Secretary of Defence argued, “widespread poverty amidst islands of wealth is more dangerous to the latter.” So, if governments do not deal effectively with poverty, then, poverty will deal more destructively with governments. Recall the reasons for the emergence of the French revolution where the people could not afford to buy bread but Marie Antoinette, the celebrated arrogant and extravagant wife (Queen) of King Louis XVI sarcastically advised the poor and hungry French mobs to “eat cake if they cannot afford bread”. Maintaining a favourable balance of trade (whereby the country’s exports’ receipts are higher than imports’ invoices) is a very necessary aspect of macroe-conomic performance. This makes foreign investment needed and welcome. Nevertheless, it would be more prudent to provide incentives to foreign companies based on their sourcing of local content like employment of the local labour force; local raw materials; and helping domestic manufactures to become more competitive. There is need to review the economics of Washington Consensus which is premised on “Less state and more market”. The state must not only remain relevant but actually must be effective if it is to cause transformation of the economy. This is what Robert Wade of the London School of Economics calls “the need for the state to govern the market”. The argument here is that while the market provides environment for efficiency, there is a danger of creating exclusion of the poor from the fierce competition usually worsened by imperfect markets. If imperfect markets are left unabated, it can be a recipe for conflict and disintegration in extreme cases. Poverty reduction is part and parcel of economic growth. The argument that growth must be achieved before redistribution is a mirage. The trickle-down mechanism based on the assumption that economic growth (first economy) will filter through to the poor (second economy) does not hold water. This implies that if the growth strategy turns belly–up, poverty reduction will sink with it. This reminds one of the old adage that “the poor man’s walking stick is support for the rich”. What is really needed is the welfare net to soften the blow. There are a number of examples which show that relying solely on the market has not created efficiency. The British rail system was privatised but there are serious efficiency gaps in keeping time, collisions, etc. Similarly, there is evidence that economic growth in many countries has not trickled down to the poor. It is therefore apparent that governments need to provide social security for those waiting for windfalls of economic growth. But even if economic growth finally arrives, it is unlikely to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. For example, South Africa is the continent’s most successful economy with a GDP, amounting to a third of all 48 sub-Saharan African economies combined. Paradoxically, it is the same economy that is encumbered with widespread dissatisfaction by the unemployed, increasing poverty and crime. I was recently in South Africa and I travelled in one of the domestic flights but I hardly saw any other black person on this flight! There were only whites and Indians—the top beneficiaries of Africa’s most successful economy. Where are the benefits of the highly romanticised growth in South Africa? Similarly, Peru has been one of the most successful countries in Latin America with a GDP growth of 9.2% per annum but with paradoxically high levels of poverty, vulnerability and a disgruntled population. The Peruvian people give little credit to President Allan Garsia for the strong economy just as former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has been thrown out of the presidency yet, he has presided over a vibrant economy. Coming back home, the Uganda government has claimed an economic growth of 8.9% per annum in the 2007/8 financial year. This is among the highest economic growths in the world but how many Ugandans can identify with this growth? Ultimately, what Ugandans require are education and skills development; employment creation; improved livelihoods, improved productivity, and increased welfare, rather than figures and macro-economic policies that have little meaning to an ordinary poor hungry person. Poor people understand their needs better than anyone else and government must take its lead from them not the other way round. The ordinary people should be allowed to voice their needs and government action be based on the needs assessment of the people but not what the government thinks the people need. The writing is clearly on the wall.

Banana wilt disease may impact on food basket

Mr Charles Kyomuhendo, a farmer in Mbarara, could fail to pay full fees for his children this academic term. The reason being that his source of income has been dealt a devastating blow by a natural calamity – the banana bacterial wilt.
“My entire life depends on the banana yields that I harvest and [sell to] cater for my family needs,” Kyomuhendo told Sunday Monitor in an interview last week.
The return of the banana bacteria wilt (BBW) three years after it was thought to have been defeated also has serious implications for a large part of the country as the region has been the food basket for the population located in central and western Uganda.

LIFELINE THREATENED: Improper disposal of banana stems exacerbates the spread of bacterial banana wilt. PHOTO BY JOSEPH MAZIGE
Like the current global financial crunch, the disease calls for immediate and concerted effort to stop it. Kyomuhendo is not alone. The disease has spread to almost all the districts of the south western region.
Ms Teo Kataratambi, a big banana farmer in Nyehanga parish, Nyakayojo Sub-county in Mbarara District, said the disease is threatening the livelihood of hundreds of people.
“The disease is real and its back,” Ms Kataratambi said. “I have about 15 acres of bananas and I have a number of casual workers who I pay on daily basis. Without the plantation, they and I will be out.”
In this sub-county alone the disease has affected the parishes of Nyarubungo, Rukindo, Katoojo and Kicwamba.Two years ago, the Food and Agriculture Organisation initiated farm field schools to help stop the spread of BBW.
She said some farmers fear to report the disease outbreak in their plantations for fear of being ordered to destroy them. This farmer, who produces over 300 bunches of bananas every month, said the disease spreads very fast. In neighbouring Ibanda District, the wilt has hit, and is ravaging five sub-counties.
According to the district National Agricultural Advisory Services’ (Naads) coordinator, Donat Rwaributwire, the disease has now spread to the sub-counties of Kichuzi, Bisheshe, Ishongororo, Kincheche and Nyamarebe.
The disease was last reported in Ibanda two years ago.He said all agricultural organisations including the Naads office have already embarked on a massive sensitisation campaign to prevent further spread of the disease.
“This was after the affected communities petitioned the district production department to urgently intervene which prompted our offices to take up the matter and save the situation,” the Naads boss said.
Farmers in the affected areas have been sensitised on the symptoms and how to dispose affected plants.
Farmers in Ibanda have already set up anti-BBW taskforces to enforce the by-laws enacted to control further spread.Some of the by-laws demand that diseased plants must be cut down, chopped and either buried or otherwise disposed of.
Also persons found tresspassing in other people’s plantations with cutting tools - that may have been used to chop affected plants - will be fined Shs5,000 per incidence per person.
“For any Banana plantation with male buds overdue for removal after set deadline will see its owner fined Shs500 per plant, diseased plants not removed by deadline; fine is Shs10,000 to Shs50,000 depending on number of diseased plants,” states one of the by-laws. The banana disease is now in the districts of Ntungamo, Isingiro, Kabale and Mbarara. It could spread even further.
Symptoms of BBW on affected plants include yellowing and drying of all leaves, starting with young ones; premature and random ripening of fruits which then develop spots in the mesocarp; drying and rotting of the male flower part and an almost instant yellow pus like liquid seen in the stems of suckers when cut.
The disease spreads with greater speed when the same cutting tool used without first heating is used indiscriminately in a given plantation.
Unfortunately, the disease is affecting banana plantations at a time when a banana processing factory was just being constructed in Bushenyi. Bushenyi has been hit particularly hard 21 out of its 29 sub-counties affected and this could have implications from intended processing/value addition for crop.
Sabastiane Tugume, a banana dealer in Bushenyi, likens the disease to the global financial melt down. Given the rate at which the disease is spreading.
In Nyabubare sub-county casual observation reveals that some farmers have already lost acres of banana plantations which had to cut down. This has brought the gloomy prospect of hunger closer.
Daniel Ruterahururu, LC1 chairman Itaaza cell in Nyabubare captures this situation quite well: “We are here confused, we do not have money to buy the drug [to fight the disease] and we don’t even know the drug to use because government has not come up to tell us (farmers) what could be the drug to apply,” he said in an interview, adding that district technocrats have held several meetings in the area with farmers but they have not provided them with any real solution.
Meanwhile, Bushenyi District agriculture officer, Ms Jenninah Tumushabe wants local leaders to be vigilant in monitoring the spread of BBW.
She said some farmers are stubbornly refusing to uproot affected plants while warning that those who continue deliberately refusing will be dealt with.
With the farmers like Cyril Owarwe in Nyarugote parish, Nyabubare saying they are at a loss as to what to because they have been disappointed several times, residents of Kampala should brace for higher prices as Bushenyi has been the major supplier of banana (matooke) to the city.Farm gate presently range between Shs4,000 and Shs8,000 depending on the size of a bunch.
Monday Rwanga, an officer in the district’s production sector, said they are now treating the matter as an ‘epidemic’.
“Some farmers confessed to having been overwhelmed because they remove the affected stems, bury them but the disease reappears and new ones get infected faster than before,” Rwanga added.
It is estimated that at least 10 people along the production-market line share the proceeds from one bunch of bananas transported to Kampala.
In the absence of the crop, many will be out of business starting with the person who weeds, the plantation owner, the (bicycle) transporter to the central banana market, those who levy the tax at the market and then those who load trucks. The others are the business person, truck owner, operators of lodges in which traders and transporters sleep, refilling stations.
“This is the one reason why the government should interest itself in fighting the disease,” Kataratambi said.