Farmers want government to intervene and redeem the fledgling fruit industry, warning that the country risks losing one of its most treasured agribusinesses.
Known for dishing out some of the sweetest fruits in the region, Uganda is losing its edge as farmers complain of less government support and more financial challenges. All these, farmers say, come amidst high demand for Uganda’s fruits. James Kanyije, the managing director of K.K Fresh produce exporters limited, told The Observer that many farmers, perhaps unable to match the high demands of the export market, grow fruits mainly for subsistence, losing out on some lucrative contracts.
“Farmers are unable to produce the quantities in line with demand orders and this leads to the loss of trust in export markets,” he said.
Kanyije pointed out that fruits like pineapples, oranges, and vegetables such as hot pepper, and egg plants, among others, remain in high demand. Florence Kata, the executive director of the Uganda Export Promotion Board, also told The Observer that demand for Uganda’s fruits is expected to increase by 21% this year. She attributed this growth partly to her body’s aggressive marketing strategy. She said UEPB, through its market linkage programmes, has managed to connect horticulture farmers directly to international buyers but the biggest challenge remains farmers meeting this demand.
To satisfy this demand, farmers say government needs to act. Farmers want government to lower tariffs on agricultural inputs such as vegetable seeds, pesticides, and farming tools like tractors. The farmers also want the government-supported Uganda Industrial Research Institute to develop simple technologies that add value to their produce. Value- added produce tends to fetch better prices than raw materials. Other farmers want more refrigerators for better storage of perishable products like mangoes.
For fair measure, government announced a raft of measures to support the agricultural sector – where at least three out of four Ugandans earn a living – in this year’s national budget. Government cut import taxes on components, parts and inputs for assembly of refrigerators and freezers from 25% to 10%. Government also announced a Shs 30bn Agricultural Credit Facility, where farmers can access cheaper loans.