MBARARA – Farmers in Western Uganda dealing in grape farming and production have appealed to the government to construct for them a factory around Mbarara City.
This call comes after a drastic fall of grape prices from Shs 4000-5000 at most to Shs 500-1000 at farm gate price as Covid-19 continues to bite farmers harder.
According to Ahimbisibwe Ham, one of the grape farmers in Nyakayojo, Mbarara who doubles as the Headteacher, Mbarara High School told theCooperator that the local market of fruits which farmers have been entirely depending on was challenged by the Covid-19 lockdown after the temporary closure of businesses in towns.
“The prices of grapes have fluctuated to the extent that a kilogram which used to be sold at Shs 4000-5000 can now be bought at Shs 2000” he says.
Ahimbisibwe adds that hawkers who have been their close allies in purchasing grapes from farms have been chased away from urban centers because of Ministry of Health guidelines against Covid-19, which has derailed the market of grapes in the region.
“The market of grape fruits which the farmers have been largely selling to hawkers, hotel owners and vendors as the majority buyers are no longer into business, so people are right now frustrated. Many farmers in the region had crossed to grape farming and some had even replaced their banana plantations with grapes but when the market falls, you really find it a problem” says Ahimbisibwe.
He said the three cottage wineries located in Nyakayojo cell Mbarara City South constituency are no longer producing since there is no market for wine.
“All my grape fruits are ripe but I have nowhere to put them because if parties were banned, bars closed so if I produce who will consume my wine? If you insist with production then it means you will be encountering double losses on your farm” says Ahimbisibwe.
“Farmers this side are even in danger of experiencing famine because they are neither getting food from the bananas which they had cut sometime back replacing it with grapes but now the grapes don’t have market and the prices have completely dropped” he adds.
Paul Taremwa, also a grape farmer in Mbarara is worried of losing about Shs 9 million from his 2-acre garden.
“I had estimated to collect around 3 tons of grape fruits and if we still had hawkers buying them, they would be giving me Shs 3000 at Farmgate price meaning that I would be earning around 9 million every after 5 months but with this Covid-19 lockdown, I must admit that I made a loss because you can see how the whole garden is ripe and no one is interested in buying”
“All our grape fruits are ripe and some are already rotting but a reason for this loss is Covid-19” adds Asiimwe Alex, the Chairperson Nyakayojo Grape Growers Association
Asiimwe says that grape farmers in Nyakayojo ward, Mbarara will most likely lose more than 100 tons of grape fruits in a season.
He further says that farmers are challenged by the kind of taxes levied on agricultural products.
“Revenue that the government is getting from a litre of wine is Shs 200 then we pay the digital stamp of Shs 2000 per bottle that means the government is getting Shs 2200 from a litre of wine yet this is an enterprise if well supported can benefit both farmers and the government” Asiimwe explained.
Also, grape farmers in Bushenyi are crying for government help after the closure of Mukira Winery Factory whose equipment broke down in 2020.
Mukira as an entrepreneur has been the biggest market for grape fruits in Bushenyi district and other neighboring districts.
Ahimbisibwe appealed to the government to construct a grape factory in Mbarara for value addition to address market related issues in western region.
“We feel that as farmers to survive, the government needs to support farmers to do value addition. Because a kilo of grape fruits which goes for Shs 2000-3000 could as well produce a liter of wine which can go up to Shs 20,000 if we had a regional facility that guarantees us market in place” he said.
“Farmers who can process their own wine from grape fruits, they would be preserving their produce and even adding value for better income” Ahimbisibwe adds.
Hon Tumwebaze Frank, the current Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) who visited the grape farms over the weekend in Mbarara says crop zoning will be a solution to farmers stuck with high production.
“Our strategy as MAAIF is to work with farmers. After the lockdown, we shall traverse the whole of Uganda doing what we call farming profiles of sub-regions to understand the kind of food production each sub-region does best because if we don’t know the profile of our farmers how do we help them?” Tumwebaze asked.
He says the data driven planning will guide agro-processing and industrialization in the agricultural value chain.
“This will help different investors and government programs to allocate factories and industries where they are supposed to be and which people to benefit because sometimes you find the government locating factories where there is are no production inputs for example like putting maize millers in areas where there has never been maize” the Minister explained.
Tumwebaze adds that as grape farmers, they don’t need relief but should be supported by the government.
“We shall support them in the value chain. If they need machinery for the processing, they need quality seeds we shall provide that’s why we are a team of government officials from NAADs and NARO we are immediately here to intervene” he emphasized.
The Minister also appealed to the government to exempt agricultural taxes to promote local production.
“This is a matter of follow up because we should not put tax on a locally manufactured wine instead, we should be really promoting it. This is an intervention that I will let the president know to remove the tax such that we can promote the local wine production and local consumption as well” explained Tumwebaze.
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