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Storage facilities boost Gulu farmers’ lives
In the searing mid-morning heat, Simon Peter Oola sweats profusely as he wheels three bags of rice into a large compound, where his produce must be weighed and certified before being stored for future sale. “This is half of my harvest so far this season”, says Oola, a smallholder farmer in Gulu district’s Awach sub-county.
After a bumper harvest, Oola, 32, who cares for a family of four primary school-going children and his wife, decided to carry their surplus produce to the community store. “I have kept the remainder in the house for home use”, Oola says. As chairperson of Awach Farmer Field School (FFS) network, Oola leads by example, taking advantage of the community’s storage facility.
On this Monday morning, another 120 smallholder farmers from Acutomergem and surrounding villages flocked into the store’s compound with their produce for inspection. There is a variety of produce ranging from rice, beans, soybean, sesame, maize and groundnuts. The brick-walled store (measuring 10 m in width by 20 m in length) has a cemented floor and is roofed with asbestos sheets. It can store up to 50 tonnes of produce. Here, officials carry out quality tests before the produce is weighed and put inside.
“We measure the moisture levels in the produce and ensure it is not contaminated”, explains Okello, one of the farmers trained by the district agricultural experts to conduct quality tests at the store. Recommended moisture content (gauged by crushing a sample of the produce seeds into a moisture detecting device) is between 10 and 13 percent. Moisture levels above these lead to fungal and pest attacks. After ensuring the quality, each farmer’s produce is recorded (in kg) against their names for future reference once sold.
The store facility, says Oola, has come in handy for many farmers in the sub-county. Many families have enough food. “We used to lose a lot of food during the planting season because of lack of recommended storage facilities”, says Oola, “but these days we don’t worry about that. We can store our produce until it fetches a better price”. He says his income has doubled as a result. He used to earn UGX 1.2 million annually before the store was constructed, but last year he earned over UGX 2 million after selling 2 tonnes of rice alone.
“I’ll earn more than that amount this year because I planted more rice that I sold at higher prices”, he says. Oola represents the new breed of farmers that are change agents and role models in Acholi subregion, where people lived on handouts from humanitarian and relief supply agencies during the two decades of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) civil conflict. With funding from the United Nations Development Programme, FAO built 26 stores in Acholi subregion alone.
Now, farmers that are benefiting from a new Government of Uganda Agricultural Livelihood Recovery Programme (ALREP) project funded by the European Union and implemented by FAO have embraced the storage facilities. A total of EUR 3.9 million is being injected into the project, which aims to improve food security and agricultural livelihoods of war-affected communities in Acholi and Teso subregions.
Joseph Egabu, head of FAO’s Gulu subregion office, says the construction of storage facilities has stimulated production per household. Egabu notes that farmers have been encouraged to produce not only for home consumption, but also for sale because they are assured that there is a stable market for their produce. Indeed, Oola and his group members in Awach have contracts with a private company – Victoria Seed Ltd – to supply up to 100 tonnes of rice this year. According to the deal, the price (per kg) was fixed at UGX 1 800, representing an increment of UGX 500 from the last season.
But Oola expects the FFS network to produce at least 200 tonnes of rice this season. After fulfilling their contractual quota, the remaining rice will be kept in the store until farmers get other competitive buyers. “Improving food security and agricultural livelihoods of the war-affected communities in Acholi and Teso” is an EU-funded, FAO-implemented project that focuses on increasing household production and productivity among communities affected by civil conflict. The project is being implemented within the framework of the Government of Uganda’s ALREP and is working with over 900 new and existing farmer field schools (each with about 30 members) to strengthen their productive capacities, introduce them to new income-generating activities and help them to access new markets for their products.