Irish potato farmers in Bukwo District in eastern Uganda are counting losses due to lack of market for their produce following the COVID19-lockdown that has made their traditional markets inaccessible.
The farmers were predominantly selling their produce across the border in Kenya prior to the lockdown, and have since gotten stranded with their harvest due to the restrictions in movement that have complicated trade between them and their traditional buyers. “We have had to watch on helplessly as the Irish(potatoes) rot away in gardens because we have nowhere to sell it,” says Samuel Kisosi, one of the farmers.
Kisosi says he had cultivated four acres of Irish potatoes and expected to reap shs.10million after selling his harvest. “But all that was before corona(virus). Now I don’t know if I will even get anything because the Kenyans are no longer coming, and locally, the markets are also suspended,” he says.
Paulina Cherop, another farmer in Chesower Sub County told theCooperator that those who’re lucky to get any buyers end up selling the Irish potatoes at give-away prices, just to avoid watching their produce rot away. “Initially, we used to sell a kilogram of Irish potatoes at Shs. 1,000. But now, there are no customers, so if you chance to get anyone who wants the potatoes for domestic consumption we sell it at as low as Shs.300 per kilogram,” She said.
Samuel Pogsho the chairperson of the potato farmers in Amanang sub-county appealed to the government to at least put in place some measures that can allow traders from Kenya to cross into the district and buy their produce with minimal social interaction.
“Even though President Museveni in his speech allowed cargo trucks to keep moving between the two countries, the authorities in both Kenya and across the border in Uganda have prevented the buyers from crossing into either country, making the lives of those of us who depend on the cross-border trade difficult,” says Pogsho.
When contacted, Bukwo Resident District Commissioner Chesol Tom acknowledged that his office has been receiving pleas from the farmers about the shutting down of markets, but argued that opening up for cross-border trade would increase the risks of COVID19 community infections.
He however appealed to government to revive and support local level cooperatives to enable farmers to safely store their produce and be able to sell it in the long term.
“We used to have producer cooperatives in every sub county, and this is what they would help with before they collapsed. Government can help support their revival to help farmers avoid making losses in periods like these,” Chesol said.