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Agro processing facilities at farmers' doorstep has improved incomes

©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Rice and maize mill in Zirobwe village. Owner has an account in the local savings and credit coop organization (SACCO).

The Community Agriculture Infrastructure Improvement Programme (CAIIP) is an US$81.9 million programme, co-financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the African Development Bank. It is implemented in 35 Districts in Central and Eastern Uganda. Its objective is to improve infrastructure for small scale farmers in remote rural areas and improve their access to markets and services. The infrastructure development component includes rehabilitation and development of new roads and establishment of agro-processing facilities close to the farmers. The programme closed in 2013 and is in the process of finalising an impact assessment.

In Butaleja, one of the districts where agro-processing facilities were established is about 245 kilometers from the capital Kampala in Eastern Uganda. The District's main economic activity is small scale agricultural production. Crops such as rice, maize, beans and cassava are grown in the area, in addition to rearing of domestic animals.

"In each district, based on the selection criteria set by the programme, the sub-counties and the communities to engage into agro-processing were selected," explained Isaac Mugume, an officer at the CAIIP Programme. "We worked closely with the District Local Government to sensitize the local communities and to make the selection of the beneficiary sub-counties, as well as suitable locations for the intervention". Once the various locations were selected and the agro-processing needs identified, the programme started the process of procuring the equipment and installing it. "We also trained the farmers on how to manage the facilities. We also set up a management committee that is expected to engage with the private sector on the day-to-day management of the equipment", added Mugume.

In Mazimasa one of the three sub-counties in Butaleja district, CAIIP programme has established  two rice hullers, one maize mill and two market shades. The maize mill is particularly busy with long queues of farmers bringing their grain for milling. In the two bigger sheds which house the rice hullers, there are several 100 kilogramme sacks stacked on wooden platforms, waiting to be milled. Some of the rice is being dried on a tarpaulin on a cement slab outside. For quality control, it is better to dry the rice at the hulling site. "The machines were installed in September 2013 and have been operational ever since "explained Annette Namugangu, the District Commercial Officer."Construction committees, made up of community members, were formed and they provide oversight in the management of the equipment." The programme requires the machinery to be managed by farmers or farmers groups organized in a cooperative. In the interim period, while the farmers are being organized, the facilities are managed by private operators, under the supervision of the District committee. Once the farmers take over the management, they will be expected to financially contribute to the maintenance of the facilities. The farmer group may hire staff for the day to day management of the facilities if needed. The challenge remains in how to ensure that the farmers' groups gain the required skills and capacity to operate and manage the agro-processing facilities in a sustainable manner, so as to generate sustainable income from them. In an ideal situation, the farmer groups or cooperatives should have been established and strengthened before the construction of the facilities. This is one of the key lessons that the project has learned – the importance of working with already established farmer groups or cooperatives to indentify which agro processing facilities to establish and how to run them in the long run.

Thanks to CAIIP, now with the new facilities, farmers can add value to their produce and have better access to markets. They are closer to the agro-processing mills, saving precious time and transportation cost. In addition, because of the quality of the machinery supplied, the quality and quantity of rice and maize flour processed has greatly improved. Yamu Isma a farmer who lives right next to the agro-processing facilities says: "the facilities are good not only because they are nearer, but because they provide storage for my rice, maize and millet". "Storing at the mill is safer, the produce is dried well without sand and stones, and without aflatoxins" Yamu is also a member of the Baligabana farmers group, whose main enterprise is maize growing. Baligabana was formed in 2008 with 30 members. "For small scale farmers to progress, they really need to work hard on their own" he said, "receiving the inputs is not enough to get out of poverty." He indicated that in his own group, only 3 out of the 30 members, have been able to improve noticeably. He also explained that the challenges of climate change, bad weather, pests and diseases have prevented other farmers who received seeds to break even.

"Despite the challenges related to how to run the facilities sustainably after project closure, we have seen a huge improvement in prices for farmers who can add value to their produce," said Mugume. "The rice is now ready for consumption and fetches a higher price,  the maize is transformed into a high quality flour, and even the milk is sold at a much higher price  at the milk collection centres" As the project closes, the question now is whether the models that have been put in place will ensure sustainability of the facilities. If they succeed then small scale farmers will continue to enjoy the results of improved market access and value addition to their crops.