By James Katongana
Enemies of development have again jumped into the hoes distribution by the Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, saying why now.
When President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni promised to give 18 million hoes to small land owners to boost their food security and incomes, he was not building castles in the air. He was talking about the rural farmer in most of our villages. The 18 million hoes boils down to three hoes per family.
This means that almost 17% of our population will benefit from this. The opposition as usual was up in arms to condemn it. Kasiano Wadri said, ‘it is the campaign heat forcing him to make such outrageous pledges, talking about hoes when we should be talking of agricultural mechanisation…’ painting President Museveni as being against mechanisation.
We have often seen the President giving out tractors to farmers and farmer groups. In fact every district in Uganda has a Government tractor that can be hired by farmers at a subsidised cost. Critics ran short of mention that the President specifically mentioned small land owners.
The truth is you cannot do away with our traditional hoe. In Uganda, there are very few rural farmers that own large chunks of land that would benefit from tractor or machinery-aided farming. Even where land is available rural farmers may not afford to hire the services of the tractor and maintain it. The costs of spare parts, repairs and fuel may deter them from using tractors. The infrastructural gap that exists may greatly affect mechanisation. It is not strange to find bicycle mechanics repair tractors in the country side. Most of the existing mechanisation workshops need revamping because access to genuine spare parts is minimal.
Quack mechanics and businessmen use farmers’ ignorance to sell them fake spare parts. Trained mechanics are not enough and those that are available concentrate in urban centres not in agricultural production areas.
There was a scenario in Pakwach where a tractor was given to a farmer group and developed a serious mechanical condition within the engine in a space of just six months and this was due to a bypass of the fuel filter and the fuel was connected direct to the engine. This would mean the dirt in the tank would not be filtered. All this was caused by a quack mechanic.
Our developing partners (KOICA) undertook a study and found that 90% of farmers in Uganda are small holder farmers who open only 0.28 hectares per season and that due to Uganda’s land tenure systems and its highly fragmentation, mechanisation on small walking tractors would be the best method of farming.
Unfortunately, the walking tractors have been in use for some time in Uganda and are highly unpopular because it wears down the farmers easily given the poor feeding habits of our people. This coupled with the heavy soils in central Uganda. It is also worth noting that even in areas like Kigezi that produce a lot of food, tractors cannot be used because of its topography.
Before I wrote this article, I consulted Simon Teremwa, the operations manager of the NEC Tractor Hire Services, a subsidiary of the National Enterprise Corporation about the use of the hoe. He told me the hoe as the first line of agricultural implement is highly adopted to small acreage farmers. It requires minimal repairs and spare parts are readily available and affordable to buy.
He, however, observed that instead of importing the hoes from China, the Government could revive the hoe factory here in Uganda as this would add value to our economy.
The writer is a Pan Africanist