Cooperators have condemned the exploitation of farmers in Bugisu sub-region by middlemen, especially those coming from neighbouring Kenya.
The cooperators made the call during a sensitization meeting recently convened by the Uganda Cooperative Alliance (UCA), at Reliance Hotel Mbale. The meeting, which was conducted under the theme “Bringing back the Vibrance of Cooperators”, brought together cooperatives and stakeholders within Bugisu.
The meeting was attended by Masaba Cooperative Union, Bugisu Cooperative Union, North Bukedi Cooperative Union, TAABU, Microfinance players and relevant stakeholders among others.
Ivan Asiimwe, the General Secretary, UCA, said farmers must stand up against exploitation by the middlemen who have caused them profit loss.
“The appetite for quick money is fuelling the exploitation of our farmers by the middlemen,” Asiimwe told theCooperator at the sidelines of the meeting.
According to participants in the meeting, free-spending private buyers of produce from neighbouring Kenya have out priced local farmers’ cooperative societies and Unions in the Eastern sub region, especially in Bugisu and Sebei.
The Kenyan buyers usually access Sebei and Bugisu sub-regions through Busia entry terminal while others use the porous borders to enter into Uganda. On arrival they immediately find their way to farms and communities, sometimes with the help of the middlemen.
At Together Agree and Build Unity Integrated Cooperative Society Limited (TAABU ICSL), based in Buyaga Town Council, Bulambuli district, Harriet Namataka, the Business Manager says that there must be a swift intervention to combat the practice.
“These illegal Kenyan produce dealers usually arm themselves with lots of cash, weighing scales, translators and big trucks before descending on our unsuspecting farmers,” Namataka told the meeting.
It’s against this background that Uganda Cooperative Alliance is now calling upon government and unions across the country to construct warehouses capable of handling the harvests from farmers as they wait for better market prices.
“The cooperators must own reliable warehouses so as to be able to bulk the harvests from member farmers and limit them from being exploited by the middlemen.”
Asiimwe also called upon farmers to change their mindset and instead support local cooperatives so as to build domestic resilience and bargaining power as a country.
Speaking during the same meeting, Associate Prof. Alex Ariho expressed the need to ensure that the state funded agricultural credit fund is conveniently accessible to all farmers.
“The terms, conditions and requirements involved for a farmer to get this fund are disabling and uncalled for,” Prof. Ariho told theCooperator.
He believes that government ought to relax these requirements so that more farmers can access the fund and be able to sustain their activities and needs if Uganda is to fight the farmer exploitation vice.
“A country whose backbone is agriculture must make sure that its farming communities are not financially crippled, constrained and disabled,” said the associate professor.
According to Hon. Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the Chairperson Bugisu Cooperative Union, Bugisu farmers alone are tricked into selling over 200 tonnes of produce to Kenyan traders; this is three times the volume of produce that farmers in the sub-region bulk into their cooperative’s warehouses or silos on a daily basis.
Mafabi remarked that these unscrupulous produce dealers are hiding behind the East African Community trade treaty to exploit Ugandan farmers.
Responding to this observation, UCA’s Ivan Asiimwe promised to lobby both the parliament and East African legislative assembly to ensure that all members comply with the treaty.