Archive for May 2007

AITEC Exhibition

May 29, 2007

Lots of memories and two years out?? Hoping this time the AITEC Exhibition lives up to its expectations because it was one of the most well organized event of the year for Ugandan business community.

Some of the companies that got millage are now doing great business the likes of MTN, uganda telecom, Infocom, ROKO, Kazinga Channel to mention but a few I highly doubt if their publicity would have been better now without the AITEC Exhibition. This time round its slated for May 30th to June 1st 2007 at Hotel Africana.

The publicity for the event has been good all over the streets, papers and radio though with a set back of having been postponed from earlier dates. There is always lots to learn, therefore I urge us to be there because among the exhibitors I see lots of new entrants lets see what they have to offer though still all credit goes to the “founders” of this event.

Middlemen still take a lion’s share!

May 16, 2007

Though farmers have maximized the use of the mobile phone’s to access market information from various parts of the country via SMS, the middleman still stand’s out and takes a lion’s share.

This was revealed at a recently concluded CELAC knowledge fair, which took place in Luwero district; an event that brought together a number of farmers from various districts who in addition to participating in the various activities, expressed their views about issues that affected them, of which exploitation of middlemen in determining market prices was one of these.

Middlemen are still regarded as exploiters who buy their produce at a lower price and sell at a higher price. Although farmers appreciate the use of mobile phones as gadgets which may perhaps eliminate middlemen as price determinants, farmers still complain that middlemen take advantage of their urgent need for money and cheat them by offering a small fraction of the actual market price for their produce.

With the many problems faced by rural farmers ranging from economic to social problems, dealing with middlemen would not be such a big deal as revealed by a farmer from Sironko district, who is quoted saying “when faced with fees to pay for children returning to school and the ever increasing medical and tax bills, I would rather sell at a lower price than not selling at all”

Other hindrances such as lack of adequate transport to ferry crops from the villages to urban areas where the prices are higher or to any other part of the country where they could fetch a higher price, also contributes to this exploitation by the middlemen.

Contributory to this is the very nature of impassable roads in most rural areas of Uganda. This was expressed by another who could not hide his disgust of the transport system when he said, “having access to a roadside in the village where the transporters collect the produce is another hassle, so how do I take advantage of the good price in a Kampala market when my tomatoes are rotting in my garden? I would rather give them to the middleman who will give me the money instead of losing out completely.” This completely illustrates that rural farmers have no option but to stick to these middlemen for purposes of their survival.

With the assumption that the use of mobile phones as a means of availing market information to farmers, they would be better position negotiate prices for their produce. However such circumstances make them succumb to middlemen who take advantage and buy at very low prices only to sell later or even sometimes instantly at very high prices.

Perhaps the only solution to eliminate middlemen as suggested by farmers would be formation of stronger Farmer’s Associations that will directly deal with farmers’ concerns.

Farmers in a knowledge fair exhibition!

May 2, 2007

Gathering at Luwero district, the CELAC farmers’ knowledge Fair, a yearly event organized by BROSDI in close collaboration with the CELAC Luweero Agricultural Network attracted farmers from the districts of Luweero, Masaka, Bushenyi, Kabale, Tororo, Apac, Sironko ,Manafwa, Kasese, Pallisa Mayunge and Lira, involved in farming of Bananas, Orange Sweet potatoes, Cassava, Tomatoes, millet, Groundnuts, Maize, Irish potatoes, Onions, Green pepper, Chicken, Turkey and goats.

Preparations
From the look of things, this was to be a very successful event. On the eve of the event, farmers gather at New Eden Primary school in Luweero district, where the event is to take place the following day.

The following morning, farmers are called for a meeting to set an agenda for the day. They are divided into three groups to participate in one of the three major cross-cutting activities of the day,

  • Debate: Mobile telephones have improved the lives of the rural grassroots farmers
  • Mock Radio Program: The grassroots farmer was intended to remain poor
  • Knowledge Fair Sharing Forum: Knowledge Sharing Forums for improved Grassroots farmers’ Livelihoods

These were to become the attention-grabbing activities of the day. Next step is to set their stalls. As they set up their stalls, we realize that some items are missing! So we rush to the nearest town to buy some masking tape, glue and a piece of white cloth for the power point presentation. Ednah had suggested we present photos that were being taken during the event and also old photos that had been taken during field visits by Maria, the CELAC program Coordinator.

The idea behind this is that such technologies excite farmers and rural folks as Ednah the Managing Director of BROSDI reveals to us and indeed it does as we later found out. Having acquired our items, we rush back to the exhibition venue to finalize our setup.

The main activities
Having done all these, the event is set to begin with a debate first on the agenda. Tapping on the theme of the event, “the role of Mobile telephony to grassroots farmers in rural Uganda”, farmers had prior to this activity divided themselves according to those who were for mobile phones and those against them; and they were ready to present their case!

Those against the mobile telephone could not hide expressing their anger on how it has led to many family breakdowns. That instead of them focusing on how to earn a living, their attention is now drawn to settling families disputes brought in by mobile phones. However, those for phone failed to concur to this. One farmer from Apac district expressed that mobile phones have helped her reduce costs and the burden of moving to Kampala when she wants agricultural related info. All she does now is to call Maria and the info is sent direct to her phone. Another farmer Mrs. Kambugu from Masaka district comes in to note that ‘through the mobile phone message I can be able to sell my produce at a reasonable price since I have the prevailing market price.’

Having successfully presented their case and since there is no judge to rule out who has won the debate, next on the agenda is the mock radio program. Here farmers discuss issues agreeing and disagreeing that the grassroots farmer was meant to remain poor. This is followed by the knowledge sharing forum, where farmers are taught on how to host successful knowledge sharing forums.

Amidst these activities, other farmers are busy exhibiting products on their various stalls. On visiting these stalls, farmers are demonstrating how to grow a certain crop right from the nursery bed to the final product even exhibiting the various products got from these crops and animals.

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The most interesting stalls to visit were banana (matooke) growing from Masaka, growing of Millet from Bushenyi district, Orange sweet potatoes from Luwero district, who later won prizes for the best exhibitors respectively. The most fascinating facts were the way these farmers diversify their crops to expand their income generating base. We learn that with the orange sweet potato one can bake cakes and doughnuts from the sweet potato flour, in addition to making bathing soap and Vaseline out of it!

On deep interaction with other farmers, their appreciation for the role of CELAC project in helping them achieve their dreams through the use of mobile phone messaging to get market prices, use of the radio programmes and the literature given to them inform of how to guides can not be denied.

However, their main concern now is the need to access markets where they can sell their produce as they are being cheated by the middlemen. This is one thing perhaps the CELAC project needs to look at since it has promoted knowledge sharing for the farmers and as such they have been able to increase their produce. The next step should be to provide them with market opportunities to sell their produce!

Summing up the event are speeches from special invited guests and the awarding of certificates and prizes to the best exhibitors. While presenting the prize to the best exhibitor, the LC5 of Luwero district who happened to also be the guest of honor, urged farmers especially women to indulge in income generating projects such as the CELAC project so as to get exciting opportunities such as the one got by the farmer who was invited to Italy to participate in Cheese making workshop.

Masaka district won a fully connected village phone as the best exhibtors, followed by Bushenyi district who won three hoes and three pangas; and Luwero district who won two hoes and three pangas. However, a certificate of participation is given to all participating districts. On this note, since most farmers put in a lot to participate in this event, it would be nice if CELAC provided a prize for each district so that the farmers do not lose hope.

Listen to interviews from the farmers