Deluge ruins crops, grounds trucks

Heavy rains have ruined crops in parts of northern Uganda, adding to the many challenges already faced by a region striving to recover from years of conflict that resulted in millions confined to “protected villages”.

While officials have yet to fully evaluate the extent of the damage, the government has announced plans to assist those affected.

“We shall provide food relief to families who are totally devastated and living in distress and planting seeds so that they recover in the next planting year,” said Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Musa Ecweru.

Worst affected are former IDPs in Gulu and Amuru districts in the north, where small-holdings of vegetables, grains and tubers are the main source of livelihood.

Ecweru said rains had also waterlogged crops in the eastern Teso district. "Even in central Uganda, we are experiencing hailstorms destroying crops," he said.

"The cassava, sweet potatoes, sim-sim [sesame] and groundnuts are rotting; even the beans failed to sprout because the rain is too much," Patrick Ojok, 38, who lived for 20 years in a protected village - in effect a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) - called Patiko Patiko, told IRIN. Ojok left the camp in 2009, resettling at his home at Pawel Angany village in Gulu.

Ojok said he had lost 0.4 hectares of beans, 0.2ha of groundnuts and 0.6ha of cassava after rain flooded his farm.

"Last year, we had the same problem but this time round the rain is too much. I fear there might be hunger next year because the little harvest we had in the first [March-July] season cannot sustain our families."

He said this was because many farmers were unable to obtain the quick-maturing seeds recommended because rains were forecast to be meagre.

"We ended up planting few seeds, mainly beans, vegetables and maize, hoping that the second season would be okay for other crops but we have been edged out. [We have] nothing more but to face hunger next year," Ojok said. "I don't see any good harvest out this season."

“Giving up”

Christopher Ojera in Okungedi village of Amuru district was also counting his losses due to rain damage.

"My crop has totally failed, this rain is unbearable and I have given up,” he told IRIN.

Jackson Lakor, an agricultural officer, told IRIN, “These farmers barely have anything, they have just left IDP camps and were struggling to get on their feet."

Gulu sub-counties, where rotten crops have been reported, include Odek, Lalogi and Cwero, he said, adding that a full assessment was being prepared.

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“What we know is that the number [of affected people] is high,” he said

The World Food Programme ended emergency food distributions in northern Uganda in June 2010, when it introduced the purchase-for-progress scheme designed to use the agency’s purchasing power to improve smallholder farmers’ access to markets and boost their output.

It is not only in fields that crops are rotting due to the deluge. Some 400 Sudan-bound trucks laden with produce from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo are bogged down in Amaru because roads north have become impassable.

"My truck has been stuck here for a week and my tomatoes have gone bad. I had taken a loan for this business, it's a big loss," said Muzamil Hamza, a trader from Kampala.

Patrick Ondonga, a maize flour dealer, said: "The road is muddy while some sections are bursting with water. The truck just cannot go beyond some of the sections. We are waiting for the skies to clear and for the sun to shine so we can continue with our journey to Juba.”

Cut off from markets

In Kenya, farmers in central Nakuru county have reported similar problems, with bumper harvests cut off from markets because unexpectedly heavy rains have turned the unsealed roads to many farms into quagmires.

“I had invested around Sh30,000 [US$375] in cultivating, buying seeds spraying and other production activities and hoped to make a profit of Sh70,000 [$875], but now I have to bear with the losses,” said cabbage farmer Paul Langat, who has a farm in Oloenguruone, Kuresoi district, which was now unreachable.

“My dreams may be shattered if the government does not repair roads that access farms in villages,” said Langat, who turned to farming after being retrenched from a parastatal.

Hiring tractors to get produce to tarmac roads is one option, but “the extra cost is adding to the production cost already incurred by farmers. Those who cannot afford to hire tractors have to helplessly watch as either their produce rots in farms, or feed them to livestock,” said Langat.