By Chris Mugasha and Joshua Kato
There is no reason for farmers around Mubuku to look for dark clouds in the skies in anticipation of rain. They do not hold rituals for rain too. They have water running through swathes of their gardens, thanks to the imposing Mubuku irrigation scheme.
Accompanied by her children carrying fresh beans and onions from the gardens, Jessica Muhinda boasts with a smile on her face, “We are happy because we always have fresh food unlike other areas,” she says.
She is among the farmers who are benefiting from Mubuku irrigation scheme which has steered agriculture production since 1964 in the Western region though with ups and downs.
The scheme lies 16kms from Kasese town on the confluence of several rivers including its flag name-River Mubuku.
“We would not be in this agriculture if it had not been Mubuku,” says Vincent Muhindo another farmer.
There is no off season because of the availability of water which facilitates the growth of different food and cash crops.
They include; rice, beans, onions, ground nuts, maize, pepper, mangoes, oranges on a large scale depending on the season. “Immediately after harvesting, we plant there another crop since we are not worried of drought,” Muhindo adds.
But again, the scheme that was recently renovated by government at a cost of sh19bn is performing below capacity. Of the 2,000 ha demarcated for irrigation, only 500 are being utilized. Many of the structures like the stores for produce are in a dilapidated state too.
A farmer using tractors to plough
The scheme was started by government in 1960s as Mubuku irrigation settlement scheme to settle people and encourage them to engage in meaningful farming, farm together, produce together, market together and sell together with the help of an irrigation scheme since the area is endowed with over 13 rivers to provide water.
Between 1964-1970s it was successful but later it went to waste during the former president Idi Amin’s regime whereby it left farmers disorganized.
It belonged to the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries but it rented it to individual farmers who up to now possess the ‘agreements’ and they are not paying anything to government.
At some point, it was handed over to Kasese district local government to manage it but it somehow failed due to lack of resources and it went back to the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries.
It was until recently when government through Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries took it up as an important tool in enhancing agriculture productivity hence taking it up for rehabilitations.
The government considers Mubuku irrigation scheme as the best way to promote large scale commercial farming through irrigation and mechanization.
The Ministry of Water and Environment was assigned to rehabilitate the water systems and some structures.
A water reservoir which has been excavated to store water to boost the irrigation system
In the 1960s, at the beginning 2,000 hectares were under irrigation. At the moment, Mubuku has about 500 hectares under irrigation, though not yet fully supplied due to the delay of the contractors.
Farmers in the other areas rely on rain an issue that has affected their efforts to produce.
According to Frank Twinamasiko the Chairman of Abashaija Kweyamba Cooperative Society that is managing the scheme, the last renovation was done in 1973.
The farmer`s plea is that all the 2,000 hectares are made operational. “Government has always promised to rehabilitate the scheme to cover all the land under the scheme,” the official added.
In 2012, sh19bn was allocated for the rehabilitation of the scheme.
“Our intention is to return it to its original status,” State Minister for water Flavia Munaaba says. However, although work was supposed to last for a year, it is yet to be completed.
“None of us has read the contents in the contract agreement and we don’t know the areas which are supposed to be worked on,” said an official at Mubuku on condition of anonymity.
Some structures like this one have remained dilapidated
How the scheme operates
Mubuku is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries in collaboration with Abashaija Kweyamba Cooperative Society limited which is comprised of 159 registered members.
Of the registered members, each household owns at least 2 and half hectares of land as an allocation which they got from government.
The registered farmers and some other people who allegedly bought hire out the land to interested farmers who are practicing agriculture.
Apart from the rent that farmers pay to landlords, water is free.
There are channels which were created in the fields demarcated in form of plots.
When a farmer’s garden is in need of water especially after planting, he/she just diverts water from the main channel to his/her garden.
When a farmer’s garden is irrigated fully, then he/she directs it to another farmer’s garden.
Water is sometimes rationed in sessions that is; when it’s not enough especially during the dry seasons.
In other areas farmers lost plantations of maize due to drought but in Mubuku, farmers have been able to harvest something because of the irrigation
High value of land
Because of this water facility, land in Mubuku is like a commercial building in major urban areas as farmers compete for the existing plots/blocks linked to the water system by hiking the rent fees.
The land in Mubuku was designated specifically for different agriculture activities. And there is no piece of land that is left unutilized as farmers plant crops in the boundaries to act as boundary marks.
“It’s not a guarantee that when you plant there this season, the next season you will plant there again because the landlords go with somebody who offers the highest rent,” narrates Muhindo.
Two acres of land are hired at a cost of between shs250,000-shs400, 000= depending on what the farmer is going to plant there.
This competition has led some farmers to drop out from farming because of the competition.
But Muhindo says if the water for irrigation could be extended to other neighboring areas, it would help and bring more farmers on board.
Women sorting out maize at the cooperative's stores
Because Mubuku enjoys the monopoly of irrigation scheme in the region, market is not a problem.
They sell their produce to businessmen throughout all the towns in the country. They also export to countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Southern Sudan.
The farmers also have a tender to supply seeds to countries like Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania among others. Some farmers get inputs like fertilizer, pesticides from organizations different companies which they pay later at the time of harvest whereby the same companies buy from them but at a price dictated by farmers.
At the end of a season, the farmers collect their produce together which they store at the cooperative’s stores and the cooperative later helps them to look for market and negotiate for better prices.
At the stores, the place is busy whereby women, men, youth and children are all engaged in different activities.
There is no waste at this place to the extent that women and children with problems of fire wood at home line up to get emikongororo (maize remains) which they take home to use as fuel/firewood to prepare food.
Farmers’ reactions on renovations
Although farmers are happy with the renovations, some are not satisfied with the manner in which the scheme has been renovated. Some farmers said many things which were part of the scheme have been left out.
“For roads and drainages, they have not been done up to the required standards,” commented a farmer. “We thought government would renovate the stores instead of renovating offices first,” said Sam Turyahikayo an elder in the area.
Apart from one office building which has been renovated, the rest buildings are dilapidated, abandoned and idle. Farmers continue to use the dilapidated stores for their produce storage.
Issues of climate change have started to impact on the scheme negatively. During the dry season water fluctuates and this has started to hinder production.
“There is no weather station here and we don’t know what is likely to happen,” noted one farmer.
The population in the area has also increased and some people have taken it as their permanent homes yet the arrangement was to farm and go back to their homes.
The heavy rains coupled with vagaries like floods which recently ravaged Kasese also leaves the water channels silted. The farmers also further complain of lack of cold room/cold chain to help them store and transport their produce.
Several farmers have benefited in different ways as Bagamuhunda explains; “We have food, we have stable incomes to cater for things like school fees and other needs and through Mubuku we have been able to sustain our families and feeding the country.”
Appeal to government
The farmers are appealing to government to expand the irrigation scheme to cater for more farmers like those in cotton growing in Nyakatonzi area.
“The volume of water is very low yet the need for irrigation is increasing,” Bagamuhunda lamented.
They would also like government to intervene and help them on the issue of inputs especially on the cost of fertilizer, cold room/cold chain.
This report was produced with the support of the African Story Challenge@African Media Initiative