Agriculture could actually be one of the sector that has been most undermined by the disease, which has reduced farmers’ incomes and increased food insecurity in thousands of households in Uganda, including in rural settings.
When the country was drawn into a nation-wide partial lockdown early this month those engaged in farming, manufacturing, and housing construction were among the few categories of people that were allowed to continue with their usual economic activities.
One would therefore imagine that since farmers are free to go to their gardens and work, the rate of their farm production and income generation would not be affected by the lockdown.
Impact of lockdown on farmers
The truth, however, is that the negative effects of Covid-19 on our national economy are cross cutting and it seems impossible to think of any economic activity that has not been negatively impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Agriculture could actually be one of the sector that has been most undermined by the disease, which has reduced farmers’ incomes and increased food insecurity in thousands of households in Uganda including in rural settings.
Only last year, on September, 21, the Washington based Heifer International, a global development organisation, released a research report which indicated that 97 per cent of smallholder farmers in Uganda had seen their income drop since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 86.6 percent of farmers seeing their income plunge by more than half.
The findings were part of a survey of 448 farmers and interviews with 10 agri-hubs, four private sector partners, and three district local governments. The survey further showed that 87 percent of farmers reported eating less than three meals per day since the onset of Covid-19 with 31 percent eating one meal per day and 40 percent at times going for days without food.
Mr Eden Kamugisha, a prominent poultry farmer in Masaka District, told Seeds of Gold: “The prices of the eggs are so low nowadays that even if you sell all the eggs you can’t afford to buy feeds for the hens. And the position is worse for the small scale poultry farmers that don’t have their own means of transport.
Given the recently introduced inter-district movement restrictions, how do you expect such farmers to travel from their districts to Masaka City to get items such as vaccines and other medical inputs for their small farms?”
Most smallholder farmers use public transport such as buses, boda-boda, and taxis to go to large towns to purchase pesticides and herbicides and to take their farm products to markets often out of their home districts, which has now been put to a close by the pandemic lockdown.
Even cash crops such as coffee for which Uganda is the largest exporter in Africa are not sold at the maximum profits that farmers expected and deserve because of reported coffee bar and restaurants closures in the coffee importing countries of Europe, Asia, and America.
Reduced market sales
Covid-19 restrictions have also been blamed for the 15 percent reduction in market sales of beans in East Africa by the May 2021 edition of the Food Security Monitor.
The inter-district transport restrictions have lowered sales in most shops in large towns where taxi operators, bar owners, and other players in the private sector are out of work and are therefore least inclined to spend, which has reduced the demand and prices of most farm products.
Another farmer, Mr Maurice Muwonge, who lives in Nyendo-Senyange Division, Masaka City, has told Seeds of Gold: “Given the low prices and reduced demand for eggs, I have resorted to keeping broilers but even then I am not stocking big numbers. When the bars were still open, it was normal to see people sitting under umbrellas at all drinking joints eating roast chicken but nowadays all bars are closed. The problem with keeping poultry is that the birds must be well fed all the time even when you have no market for them.”
Suspension of markets
The suspension of weekly market days in the country has further made farming less profitable since these used to be the places where smallholder farmers and traders sold their vegetables and livestock (goats, sheep, local chicken).
The economic losses resulting from the Covid-19 lockdown are dire. Think of the effects of the closure of schools, institutions of higher learning, and universities to the farmers whose income depended on selling beans, matoke, millet, fruits, maize, milk, eggs, and firewood to the institutions.
A local newspaper last week reported that some school owners were selling off the schools to clear bank loans and other debts.
When the school buildings are sold it is unlikely that the new owners will still invest in running schools since already we have examples of schools buildings that have been turned into more paying ventures like lodges and motels.
For years, farmers have been encouraged to form groups so that they can save money together, market their farm products together and meet regularly to discuss and share ideas to improve their livelihoods.
Under the Covid-19 lockdown, such meetings are forbidden unless only 20 members are invited. Yet the majority of our farmers cannot hold zoom meetings given their low computer literacy levels.
Given that agriculture is the backbone of our economy anything that holds it back is bound to ruin all our development prospects and it is time we began learning to live with the disease since it is not likely to go away very soon.
A UNDP report, released last year, estimates that nearly half of all jobs in Africa could be lost due to Covid-19, and that income losses linked to the disease will exceed $220 billion in developing countries.
We are already seeing the loss of thousands of farming related jobs in Uganda. The people that earned their living from the entertainment industry, alcohol selling joints, ‘rolex chapatti’ making, meat roasting, public transport, and farming are making losses or totally closed and driven out of work.