Ugandan government revisits poverty alleviation programme

Apr 13, 2010

Over 25 Million US dollars have been disbursed by the Ugandan government to assist rural farmers since 2003. But the money has not served its purpose. This has prompted government to revisit the poverty alleviation programmes with effect from January 2010.

Mzee Erisa Semanda is a farmer and retired teacher in Bukanaga village, Mityana district, two hours’ drive away from Kampala City. At 76 years of age, Semanda is awake by 6 am every morning to attend to his garden. This has been his daily routine for the last 50 years.

With a clean shaven chin and a hat to protect him from the scorching heat of the sun, Semanda walks slowly to his well-attended garden comprising of oranges and tomatoes. He tills the land with a hand hoe and carries the mulching grass on his head. Farming has become part of his life. When he was still a teacher, cultivation was a part time activity that supplemented his meager salary. But it became a full time activity when he retired. Apart from general body weakness due to old age, there are many other challenges that are making farming difficult for Semanda. He notes that unlike in the past when the land was very fertile, these days it has lost nutrients. He says you can no longer cultivate without artificial fertilizers which are expensive for him. He even fears micro finance institutions since they have robbed many of his colleagues, he says.

Using rudimentary tools like hand hoes, pangs and sickles also affects the quantity of output. But Semanda and his colleagues have no money to buy tractors. The roads to market centers are also impassable which often causes losses during bumper harvest. The un-tarmacked roads become muddy and slippery in rainy seasons, blocking vehicles for days. Perishable products like tomatoes and oranges end up rotting away before reaching market centers.
Mzee Semanda is not alone, many rural areas in Uganda are replete with stories similar to his.

Money diverted

Despite this misery, the government of Uganda has over the past seven years disbursed about 25 Million US dollars to support rural farmers. The money was channeled through the Micro Finance Support Center (MSC), a government organ that coordinates micro credit programmes. This organ is supposed to offer credit through loan products that support the agricultural production value chain of production, value addition and marketing. MSC products are delivered through registered institutions that support agriculture. Over 500 institutions across the country received this money.

But the money never served its purpose. The Chairperson of the Microfinance Support Center and senior presidential Advisor on Microfinance, Dr Specioza Wandera Kazibwe attributes this failure to the existence of briefcase microfinance institutions. She says that even those that existed lent the money to mainly traders in towns yet it was meant for rural farmers.

Dr Kazibwe says that Uganda’s economy can not be transformed without special emphasis on agriculture which employs over 85% of Ugandans. She says that agriculture can transform the rural economy through job creation and increase in household income. “It was therefore a fundamental error for the microfinance institutions to divert the money to traders” she said “This money is not felt because it is either in markets in Kampala or with traders going to Dubai.”

Kazibwe says that they have now decided to revisit this programme with effect from January 2010. She says that 80% of the money will no longer go through microfinance institutions but rather directly to local cooperative enterprises and legally organized active and productive rural poor. Farmers will be encouraged to form cooperatives in order to access the money. “This would ensure that money meant for agriculture is properly used,” she said.

Samuel Kazibwe, Uganda