Rev Leviticus Acidri of Madi and West Nile diocese of the Church of Uganda is one of the beneficiaries of seeds from Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), an army-led initiative to end household poverty and drive the country into the cherished middle-income status.
For two seasons now, Achidri has recorded low yields, thanks to suspected fake seeds he received under the programme.
“Very few [seeds] germinated and those that did were attacked by armyworms yet the original seeds; the ones that we preserve locally, are doing well and were not attacked by the worms,” Acidri told members of parliament’s committee on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries on November 16.
The committee, led by its vice chairperson Robert Migadde Ndugwa (Buvuma), has for the past one month been investigating claims of farmers being supplied with fake seeds.
“There is a problem in this country about the quality of seed, we have been wondering as a committee, wondering where the fake seeds come from,” Migadde told The Observer on November 17.
Through the national agricultural advisory services (Naads) and OWC, government has been distributing planting materials, among other interventions, to farmers as President Museveni sought to improve Uganda’s agricultural productivity.
Since then, questions have been asked about the quality of materials distributed, owing to the high failure rate.
“Seed is a national security [issue]; when we have hunger, you see China intervening yet we can help our farmers to produce enough food,” Migadde said.
In his 2017/18 budget speech, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija reported low survival rates of planting materials distributed to farmers which stood at 40 per cent.
Under Naads, assorted seeds are bought from private seed companies. These companies are obliged to have nucleus farms where they do seed multiplication from a foundation seed lot distributed by the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) at $300 (Shs 1.08m) per kilogramme.
Without adequate land, some seed companies have entered into partnerships with individual farmers to produce the seeds for them. Unfortunately, some of the outgrower farmers were discovered to lack the capacity to produce good quality seeds.
“The quality of seed determines the quality of yields a farmer will get. If we are distributing poor quality, miserable seeds, you know the quality of products we will get,” Shadow minister of Agriculture Francis Gonahasa (Kabweri) said.
To ensure that good quality seeds are produced and distributed to farmers, government set up the national seed certification services (NSCS) under the Seed and Plant Act 2006 to supervise the companies.
However, out of 31 licensed seed companies, NSCS officials visited only 12 companies over the past one year. Some of these were visited on the eve of the MPs’ arrival.
In order for the seed companies to be supervised, they have to pay NSCS officials full allowances, including fuel, accommodation and meals. This discovery shocked the MPs, raising doubts on whether NSCS can ably supervise the seed companies in such an environment.
Samuel Emiku, the undersecretary of Uganda Prison Services, observed that this facilitation is normal.
“The facilitation we give them is just their entitlements as government officials, but not to influence them. Their ministry is not facilitating them, and we have a crop that we need to be inspected, what do we do?” wondered Emiku.
Uganda Prisons is one of the 31 companies licensed to supply seed to OWC. Many of these companies started as seed dealers but got licenses to clean, process and produce seed.
“Without a nucleus farm, many buy [grain] from uncertified farmers, paint them with unapproved chemicals, pack and send to the market,” said former Central youth MP Patrick Nakabaale.
Nakabaale is himself a seed producer under Gavic seeds, which works with Uganda Prison Services. The Naads executive director, Dr Sam Mugasi, concurred with Nakabaale, telling The Observer on November 17 that the agricultural agency is investigating the reports.
“We have issued a warning to the seed companies because some buy grain and treat it; once we get them, we will blacklist them because we are tired of these endless complaints,” Mugasi said.
Mugasi also blames the low germination rates on poor seed handling by farmers.
“Some farmers keep the seed until the next season. Once you keep the seed under poor conditions, it will die,” Mugasi said.
Besides the farmers, Michael Ocowun, the production manager at Equator seeds, meanwhile, blames district authorities for the mismanagement of the seeds. According to Ocowun, districts don’t have proper storage facilities for the seeds supplied to them for onward distribution to farmers.
Then there is the politics involved in supplying seeds to Naads. According to Emiku, this might explain why some companies enjoy certain privileges.
“There is some politics that we have failed to understand because despite a presidential directive that Naads picks the seeds for distribution from Uganda Prisons, they (Naads) would rather deal with private suppliers than us for reasons best known to them,” Emiku said.
Uganda Prisons joined the seeds trade about one and a half years ago after a protracted court battle against some big shots in government who had wanted to grab part of its 2,200-acre Rwimi prison farm in Bunyagabu district.
Rwimi prison farm has since been turned into a nucleus farm for Uganda Prisons seeds. Because of the politics, Emiku said, the bulk of the 718.4 metric tonnes of seed produced by Uganda Prisons this year is likely to go to waste since Naads took only 29 metric tonnes.
But according to Naads, Uganda Prisons could not be accommodated since it started producing seeds late when the agency already had running contracts with other seed producers. These contracts are expected to expire in February 2018.
“Even the animals are diseased. Instead of improving productivity, the cows that were brought in have only helped in spreading brucellosis to our indigenous breeds. We never had brucellosis fever here but the number of people and cattle that has been affected by the disease is big,” Acidri said.
Available guidelines require that before livestock is distributed to farmers, blood samples are drawn and tested for possible infections at the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries laboratories.
According to Dr Mugasi, the distribution chain for cows faced challenges due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease and resistance of ticks to drugs.
“Sickness is normal for any living thing; the issue should be how you treat it,” Mugasi said on November 17.
“We are coming up with a strategy to stop transporting cows from one region to another because some of them fail to adapt to the conditions of the region where they have been taken,” Mugasi added.
In the new strategy, Naads hopes to work with local breeders to supply their respective regions.