Members of Panyimur Dei Area Cooperative Enterprise (PD-ACE) are struggling to survive amidst low productivity and savings from members as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. .
The 1400-member cooperative, which primarily deals in grain production and trade and has been in existence for about ten years, with a current worth in asset value and savings estimated at 1.5 billion shillings, is struggling to regain its feet in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has affected different sectors of the economy including agriculture in which PD-ACE is engaged. The cooperative produces mainly rice, maize and soya beans with a turnover of over 600 metric tonnes and 200 metric tonnes for rice and maize respectively per season for the previous years.
However, John Bosco Adegitho, the Board Chairperson, Panyimur Dei Area Cooperative Enterprise avers that trouble emerged when their planting season was interrupted by the emergence of COVID-19 early this year, which, together with restrictions on movement, affected their productivity.
“This COVID has impacted on us badly. We mainly rely on manual labourers from Congo, but COVID stopped these people from moving and coming to help farmers in the garden,” Adegitho said.
Adegitho revealed that the cooperative has just one tractor that cannot possibly plough for each of their 1,478 members, all of whom are engaged in farming.
“Even if you ploughed using a tractor, it would not work for some activities like weeding” he added.
“ Definitely our farmers cannot do much this year, as the pandemic has caused a big loss to most of them. Our levels of production will be very low,” he predicted.
Gasper Okethi, the Field Extension Officer for Panyimur Area Cooperative Enterprises contends that farmers do not only have to deal with shortage of labour, but also an ongoing dry spell that has affected the second planting season.
“Farmers had prepared their fields in anticipation of the second season, but it’s very disappointing that until now, with August almost over, we have not received anything like rain. For those who had planted with expectation of rains, they will have to replant when rains come. So we expect little productivity even for the second season,” Okethi said.
Abegitho says that their cooperative primarily depends on the productivity of their farmers, yet with little produce, their savings portfolio has also been affected overtime.
“Our business is seasonal, and so when our farmers produce, our cooperative thrives but when they don’t produce, then we have problems. COVID came around February/March when we (farmers) were preparing the land. So, we have hardly made any savings all this time,” Abegitho revealed.
He says that farmers are now afraid to borrow money from the cooperative, just as PD-ACE fears to borrow from other financial institutions because this would result in debts and other penalties in case of failure to pay.
Worse still, Abegitho says, the cooperative’s milling factory now sits idle because of lack of grain, yet they have workers to pay.
This financial year, government earmarked Shs 94 billion to provide credit to SACCOs and other Micro finance institutions as support for micro and small-scale enterprises. Over Shs 1 trillion (1,045 billion) was sank into Uganda Development Bank (UDB) to offer low interest financing to manufacturing, agribusiness and other private sector firms while Shs 256 billion was reserved for Emyooga Talent Support scheme offered through the Micro Finance Support Centre.
However, Abegitho argues that local farmers are unable to access credit financing through these government schemes.
“Government has put money at Micro finance support Centre but they’re not specific which kind of farmers this money is there for. The conditions for somebody to acquire the funds are also unfavourable to the ordinary farmer. For example the distance from where we are to where their offices are is so far for these local farmers,” Abegitho said.