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Mixed fortunes for farmers as post-COVID-19 economy begins to look up

Farmers and agricultural investors from different sectors are enjoying mixed fortunes as the economy begins to recover in the wake of a gradual easing of the COVID-19 related lockdown. 

While prices in the poultry and dairy sectors are starting to recover, banana farmers continue to count losses as the low prices for the popular staple persist.

Crowing with delight

In the heart of the lockdown, this website reported about falling egg prices in Gulu. The situation was similar in most of the country, including Western and Central Uganda, where a tray of eggs went as low as Shs 5000-8,000, down from Shs 10,000-12,000 per tray prior to the lockdown.

Now, however, an investigation by theCooperator in the districts of Mbarara and Isingiro indicates that poultry farmers in the two districts are crowing with delight as egg prices start to rise and demand outstrips supply.

Allen Nuwagaba, an eggs dealer in Lugazi trading centre, Mbarara, says a tray of eggs has jumped from Shs 7,000-10,000.

She attributed the increased prices to the fact that several poultry farmers, disheartened by the low prices for eggs during lockdown, sold all their birds and exited the business. As a result, the few farmers left in the business cannot meet the spike in demand for eggs.

“Most farmers gave up with poultry keeping because it happened that chicken feeds were expensive yet the eggs were sold cheaply because of low demand. So when the lockdown was eased a bit many had sold the birds and those that remained cannot sustain the big market demand, hence theincreased prices,” Nuwagaba says.

“Currently, we buy a tray from the farm at Shs 10,000 and we sell it at Shs 10,500-11,000 depending on the customer” Nuwagaba adds

Nevertheless, Nuwagaba, who has been two years in the eggs business, says sales volumes are yet to reach pre-lockdown levels, and now stocks 500-600 trays daily, down from 800 trays before lockdown. She attributes the sluggish business to the increased prices.

“A person who last bought a tray of eggs at Shs 8000, on being told it is now Shs 11000 will go away thinking you want to cheat him/her,” she said.

Everest Rutaro, a poultry farmer in Isingiro North with about 1800 birds that lay 500 eggs a day lost close to 3000 trays during the COVID-19-related lockdown. He says the period was brutal for those in the poultry business.

“We had so many eggs in stock that we had to give some out free to our neighbours. Still, some went bad and we were forced to dispose of them, and yet the birds had to continue feeding. We made huge losses,” he narrates.

Rutaro says at the lowest point of the crisis, the farm gate price for a tray of eggs dropped from Shs 11,000 to 6,000, and even then buyers were few as restaurants and hotels which had been their major clientele in the past, were mostly closed during lockdown. 

He says it will be a while before poultry farmers recover from the loss encountered during the lockdown, and asked for government support to get them back on their feet.

“Any help would lift us up a bit because we are heavily indebted,” he said.

Jackline Hamis, Manager of Kyera Poultry Farmers keeps a total of 15,000 birds and sold a tray of eggs at Shs 5,000 during the lockdown. She says that, like many other poultry farmers, at one point they were forced to bury eggs that had started going bad.

She, however, also confirmed that there has been a drastic increase in demand for eggs after  the lockdown was eased.

“Now the market is there and the prices have started increasing. At the moment I have so many orders that I cannot meet the demand. The few trays I have with me here are already booked, and you can see how people are flocking looking for eggs,” she said, referring to the dozens of customers who popped into the shop during the course of the interview.

She appealed to the government to waive taxes on chicken feeds as one way to assist farmers to recoup the losses incurred due to COVID-19.

“Our feeds suppliers tell us that taxes on them have been increased. We are appealing to government to remove these taxes in order to boost poultry farming in Uganda,” said the prominent farmer who collects 300 trays of eggs every day and employs 15 workers on her farm.

Moo goodness

Meanwhile, Jomo Mugabe, a farmer in Rwampara district told theCooperator that milk prices have also shot up following a price slump during lockdown.

He attributed the increase in prices to low milk supplies caused by the dry season that has afflicted western Uganda.

Mugabe says the farm gate price for a litre of milk increased from Shs 300 to 500, while in Mbarara town a litre costs between Shs 1000 to1200.

Banana prices plummet further

However, the fate of banana farmers is quite different.

 Mugabe says banana prices in the region have continued to drop due to a glut of the crop that has endured a couple of months now. 

“Many farmers are stuck with bunches in their banana plantations and a bunch of banana goes for Shs 1000 to 2000 at the farm,” he says. Similarly, farmers in Mitoma, Isingiro, Kashari and Bushenyi also report having more bananas than the market can absorb.

Fred Twinomugisha Mbika, a banana farmer in Bushenyi-Ishaka Municipality says that several farmers, frustrated by the low prices had given up on maintaining their banana plantations to the commercial standards during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

Stranded- Mugabe waits for buyers for his bananas in vain. Prices of the staple are at an all time low. Photo by Joshua Nahamya

“What are the benefits of growing bananas in such conditions?” he asked.

“You are employing workers, adding manure and fertilizers, but at the end of the month you fail even to raise money to pay the workers. We are badly off and many of our farmers have given up and started on something else.”

Agro-inputs dealers struggling

Meanwhile, Rodgers Betunga, an agrochemical dealer in central market also reported a drastic reduction in customer numbers during the COVID-19 lockdown period, a situation that has persisted even after restrictions were eased.

“We have most of the inputs and agrochemical products in stock, but where are the customers? The planting season ended during the COVID-19 lockdown and now we are in harvesting season, meaning that we have to wait for the next rainy season to get customers.”

He added that some of the popular products are missing on market due to the international border closure, while the price of others has gone up because of increased transport costs. 

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