The Trade, Industries, and Cooperatives Ministry in Uganda is facing scrutiny from legislators over the significant drop in prices of cash crops, particularly cotton, in the West Nile region. Farmers are reportedly receiving prices well below the Cotton Development Organisation’s (CDO) set rate of Shs2,300 per kilogram for the 2023 season, with some farmers in Nebbi District being offered as low as Shs1,300.
Isaac Otimgiw, Padyere County MP, raised the issue during a plenary sitting, demanding an explanation from the Ministry of Trade on why farmers are facing exploitation in this manner. Other legislators, including George Bhoka and Abed Bwanika, echoed concerns about the adverse impact on cotton-growing districts in West Nile, with farmers facing financial difficulties due to delayed payments and low prices.
Bwanika mentioned a proposed Contract Farming Bill, aiming to regulate contracts and block farming in the country. Contract farming involves agreements between buyers and farmers regarding the supply of agricultural products at agreed-upon conditions. He sought parliamentary approval to introduce the bill, suggesting it could address some of the challenges faced by farmers.
David Bahati, the State Minister for Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives (Industry), responded to the concerns, attributing the fluctuation in crop prices to the free market economy. He acknowledged the minimal government intervention in the cotton sector but expressed a willingness to engage with farmers to find a mutually agreeable solution. Additionally, he mentioned discussions with the Mayor of Masindi Municipality regarding sugar prices, indicating a broader approach to addressing similar issues in different agricultural sectors.
Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa proposed a mechanism to stabilize the Uganda shilling against foreign currencies as a way to mitigate the impact of international pricing shocks on the country’s agricultural sector. This suggests a broader economic perspective in addressing the challenges faced by farmers.
The situation underscores the complexities of balancing market dynamics, government intervention, and the welfare of agricultural communities. The proposed Contract Farming Bill and discussions on stabilizing the currency reflect potential avenues for addressing these challenges.