THE VOICE OF THE COMMUNITY ON COVID-19 IN UGANDA
As the cases of COVID 19 in Uganda shoot to 446 as of 31 May 2020. The president extended the lockdown to 14 days on the 14th of May 2020 from a 35 days’ lockdown period. He allowed wholesalers, hardware shops, garages, warehouses, metal/wood workshops, insurance providers, lawyers (30 maximum) and restaurants (serving take-away) to reopen but kept schools, airports and borders closed. Movement of people including use of public and private vehicles and use of motorcycles are still restricted to a total lockdown of 14 days ending 20th May, 2020. The 7pm curfew is still instituted and the only cars allowed to move before and beyond that time are cargo planes, lorries/trucks, pickups and trains.
In his speech on the 14th of May, the President advised essential services to either hire a bus for their staff to and from work, camp at their places of work, cycle or walk to avoid the spread of disease. Similarly, he said that anyone living in his/her home must wear a cloth face mask whenever they are in public because the virus rides on the droplets.
Upon realizing that products such as fertilizers were rare to get in the market, Ngategire Stella set foot to start her Mobuku farmers store in 1994 so that she could bring services nearer to the farmers. Mobuku Farmers store is located at the heart of Kasese town and nears the boarder of Congo and Uganda. As her business started to grow, she realized that most of the farmers buying seed from her, didn’t have where to sell their produce. Determined, Stella embarked on a journey to buy Maize from her farmers and sell it in different parts in Kampala. However, 5 years down the road the market was flooded with Maize that profits were not coming in as usual. She then came up with a plan to mill the maize and sale the flour.
IMPACT OF COVID 19 ON MOBUKU FARMERS STORE
With COVID 19 spreading rapidly in Uganda, Mobuku farmers store has begun to feel the impacts of the pandemic on both its input sales and output market. When the government closed boarders and stopped movement from Congo and Uganda, Stella has not been able to sale her maize to her Largest market Congo. Before the closure, she had sold over 60 tons of Maize worth Seventy two Million Uganda shillings (approximately 20,000USD) but now she is barely selling any Maize.
The measures put in place by government has made it very difficult for farmers to travel to her shop. Most of Stella’s customers are from Mountain Rwenzori which is about 33.2kms from Kasese Town. Since her truck cannot navigate the impassable roads around the mountain, she hires bodabodas (Motorcycles) to move her products to her customers and yet the cost of moving the products is high and the transport charge is now 50,000 shillings (approximately 14$) which is twice the normal pay.
It’s been difficult for Stella to access her shop. The 15km trek from her home to her shop takes her about an hour to reach her business. This coupled with the 7am and 7pm curfew instituted by government leaves her with little time to invest in her business.
The recent heavy rains in Kasese have caused the bridge at River Nyamwamba to burst cutting off Kasese-Fort Portal main road. This has further complicated the situation for business in Kasese town. The factory where she mills her Maize has been flooded by water and there is nothing she can do to save her property since it’s at the other side of the road which she can’t cross due to the floods.
“The floods have wreaked havoc in Kasese. People are not mindful of the social distance procedures put in place to prevent COVID 19 virus from spreading. A mass number of people are sleeping in churches because homes have been destroyed and there is nowhere to go”. Stella elaborated.
Though the local authorities and the government are doing the best they can to address the problem, she fears that this situation has taken her a huge step backwards in her business. She expressed that it will take her time to recover but she won’t give up because farmers need her and she equally needs them.
25 years in business and with AFAP’s support, Stella is able to sell and distribute Maize and Maize flour to Congo, Kampala and within different districts in Uganda such as Kanungu, Kabale, Bushenyi and Bundibujo.
Stella has supported over 160 farmers by just buying their Maize competitively during the pandemic. These farmers aggregate their maize as a group making it easier for Stella to get the maize from one place instead of looking for individual farmers.
“This is important for the farmers and communities in general because they stimulate growth of business, and improve members’ income as well as living conditions”, said Stella.
Out of the 50 Metric tons of fertilizers stocked in March, Stella has been able to distribute 30 tons of fertilizers to smallholder farmers and retail agrodealers. Something that would not have been possible without the truck granted to her by AFAP. Under normal circumstances, public transport and Motorcyles have always supported last mile input distribution, but all this has been hampered by the instituted COVID-19 measures.
Like many hub agrodealers, Stella is continuing to buy Maize from small holder farmers to keep her business running since she is uncertain of how long her supply would last.
Mobuku farmers store buys most of her product with cash but sales them on credit because of the income of the rural farmers. The money is then often paid back in a week’s time.
“Due to the capital of my farmers, I give more products such as fertilizer on credit. With access to products on credit, I can be able to serve more farmers with ease of access and affordability’. Said Stella.