A boda boda rider taking matooke to the market
The price of a bunch of matooke has fallen drastically in Ankole region in western Uganda from the Shs 15,000 in pre-lockdown period to Shs 1,000 during the coronavirus lockdown. Ankole is one of the biggest producers of matooke in the country, a food staple for the majority of Ugandans.
Matooke production has over the years transformed livelihoods across the region, with more people depending on the food crop to earn a living, a story which is almost similar in the areas of Buhweju, Bushenyi, Ibanda, Isingiro, Kiruhura, Mbarara, Ntungamo Rubirizi and Rwampara, among others.
But many of the farmers are now struggling as the cost of a bunch of matooke hit the lowest mark, going for as low as Shs 1,000 and Shs 2,000 from Shs 15,000 and Shs 25,000 before the lockdown which was imposed in March this year to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The farmers say that although the price drops are always expected during the peak harvest season running from June to August, the drop this year is unprecedented.
Annet Natukunda Kitende, a banana trader at Kasana market said that this is the biggest drop she has witnessed for the last four years that she has been in the business. Natukunda says that she now buys a bunch of Matooke at Shs 1,000 from the farmer and sells it between Shs 2,000 and Shs 4,000 to the final consumer.
Edward Muheki, a farmer that owns up to 15 acres of banana plantations in Mbarara district says he has incurred losses this year than never before. Muheki, suspects that the drop was caused by effects of the COVID-19 lockdown which affected the movement of traders from other urban centres and consumption patterns among city dwellers.
Susan Orishaba, another farmer in Bireere sub-county, Isingiro district partly blames the drop on the ban on public gatherings. She said weddings and burials used to contribute a lot to the consumption of matooke, a market which is now nonexistent.
Today, she adds, one needs to sell over 20 bunches of matooke to buy a five kilograms bag of maize flour.
"A bunch is Shs 1500, a kilo of flour is 2,500, you need to sell 10 bunches to buy a five kilograms bag of posho flour, that's how cheap the matooke is today," she said.
Reverend Canon Godfrey Ngabirano Karitani, another farmer who owns over 30 acres in Katerera village in Rwampara district, says the number of banana traders has decreased compared to those that used to comb the villages before the lockdown.
He adds that several markets where distance traders from Kampala and South Sudan used to buy matooke from have been closed for failing to implement Covid-19 standard operating procedures.
"Right now the matooke ranges between Shs 4,000 and Shs 6,000 at the village level. We don’t have a lot of people who come to buy matooke. They used to be there when there was no COVID-19. But when the markets were closed, these people do not now come. People come from Kampala at least two or three. They go around to buy matooke from farmers. That is why you find that you have your matooke but you have nowhere to sell them. The price is determined by the middlemen," he said.
Ngabirano says farmers have to deal with the challenge of middlemen and that the current situation has given them the advantage to determine the price of Matooke from the garden
"We have a challenge of middlemen who come and tell you a bunch of matooke is at Shs 1,000 and when he goes and he sells it at Shs 4,000, Shs 5,000, Shs 6,000. Even others go to Shs 7,000 and you find that he gets a lot of money which the farmer doesn’t get, the owner of the plantation doesn’t determine the price," he added.
Rubirizi district commercial officer, Deo Abimpe said they are advocating for banana cooperatives so that the farmers can have one voice when determining prices.