By Petride Mudoola
Dimitiriya, 43, was sent to the Ibuga Government Prison Farm in Kasese district after an indictment of 15 years for illegal possession of firearms.
Rather than curse the day he was jailed, Dimitiriya is all praises for his prison sentence, thanks to the agricultural skills training and rehabilitation project at the prison farm.
“My prison term has been a blessing in disguise. Before I was imprisoned, I did not have any knowledge in farming, but while in jail, I have gained skills that will make me a job-creator after my release,” he says.
As the head of production among inmates, Dimitiriya is responsible for supervising inmates on the farm. The farm produces cabbages, onions, tomatoes, maize, mangoes, pineapples, oranges and watermelon.
Owing to their unique programmes, prison farms have often been rated among the best exhibitors at the annual farmers’ fair in Jinja.
Huge farms, huge benefits
Dimitiriya in a vegetable garden at Ibuga government prison farm in Kasese district
The Uganda Prisons is among the largest producers of maize in the country. It has 21 farms.
The farms are used to impart modern farming skills to prisoners, according to Dr. Johnson Byabashaija, the Prison’s boss.
“Prison farms contribute to transforming prisons from being punitive to correctional institutions. These equip prisoners with agricultural skills that will help them create jobs hence become responsible citizens upon discharge,” he says.
“The programmes create a paradigm shift of prison practices – from traditional custodial and punitive roles to correctional and rehabilitation roles that facilitate social re-integration of offenders,” Byabashaija explains.
He says one of the crops prisoners grow on a commercial scale is maize, which eases feeding of the prisoners.
Byabashaija adds that their farms act as demonstration farms to communities near the prisons.
According to Amos Turyashaba, the officer in charge of Uganda Prisons Farm Ruimi in Fort Portal, the facility has 3,700 acres and was established to produce maize on a large scale to feed prisoners countrywide.
Turyashaba, however, says production is still below capacity. “Out of the 3,700 acres, only 550 are under maize cultivation, 450 are used for afforestation, fruit production and vegetable growing. About 2,700 acres are unutilised, yet feeding prisoners requires 9,000 tonnes of maize flour annually,” he explains.
Turyashaba explains that Ruimi produces 900 tonnes of maize per season, yet it is capable of producing 6,000 tonnes every year if it is well-facilitated. While Ibuga in Kasese has 800 acres, only 400 of these are utilised for maize production.
According to Jude Kaliisa, the officer in charge of Ibuga Prison Farm, the land under afforestation is 50 acres. Mainly pine, neem and acacia trees have been planted to act as wind breakers as well as provide firewood. He adds that 20 acres are used for horticulture and fruit growing.
“We grow matooke, cabbage, carrots, mangoes and pawpaws on this land. The project acts as demonstration farm to other farmers, as well as providing a balanced diet to inmates and staff,” Kaliisa says.
According to Frank Baine, the prison’s publicist , Uganda Prison Service requires over sh30b annually to feed prisoners countrywide, but receives only sh14b from the Government for this purpose.
According to officers in charge of prison farms, the units lack inadequate machinery and implements. To realise the full potential of these farms, there is need for heavy duty tractors, trucks to transport the produce and combine harvesters that can facilitate large-scale harvesting.
Changes in weather patterns over time have negatively impacted on production, leading to crop failure. To mitigate this, there is need for irrigation schemes since most prison farms are located near water bodies.
Prison farms also lack adequate storage facilities, which lead to heavy post-harvest losses. They still rely on cribs to store farm produce. However, there is need to construct grain silos as well as provide equipment like dryers to ensure safe post-harvest handling of the produce.
The farms are constrained by inadequate supply of agri-inputs like diesel, fertilisers, seeds, herbicides and machinery spares.
Like most government institutions, prison farms are faced with the challenge of land grabbing. Prison authorities cite the Ruimi prison case, whereby in spite of having a tittle, an injunction was issued restricting activities on the land.
“Out of the 224 prison units, only 40 have land under the Uganda Prison Service,” Baine says. Most of the land is either under the land commission or district land boards. Therefore, developing it is still a challenge and exposes it to encroachers.
Baine suggests that the land should be surveyed and titles issued to Uganda Prison Service.