UGANDA: DESIGN FLAWS PARALYZE FARMING IN THE US$ 7.3 M AGORO IRRIGATION SCHEME

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Bananas plants in Agoro Irrigation Scheme, growing near water channels

During the construction, farmers hoped the rehabilitation would usher in a new era of modern farming practices. They expected extension services in crops and animals alongside free farm inputs and mechanization. All these have remained dreams on papers.

 

Teopista Atim, formerly a Member of the Executive Board of Agoro Self Help Irrigation Scheme says the community was never consulted on the entire architecture neither was the design explained to the farmers. She says this prompted them to visit Kibimba Rice Scheme to learn from the farmers there how the scheme was rehabilitated.

 

LAMWO-UGANDA:Design flaws in Agoro Irrigation Scheme in Lamwo district continue to cripple agricultural production among communities there.

 

The glitches prevent water from reaching small holder farms in the scheme rehabilitated at Uganda shillings 27 Billion (US$ 7.3 m) by the African Development Bank. This has left farmers struggling to achieve food security in the changing climatic conditions in the area.

 

Lamwo district leaders say fixing the technical faults will cost government Uganda shillings 2 Billion (US$540000). In the meantime, small holder farmers involved in the scheme manually irrigate their farms in the worst of times. The magnitude of the job is too cumbersome that many farmers have become frustrated from continuing to use water for production from the scheme for food security agenda.

 

They squarely blame the problems on Dott Construction Services, the Ugandan Company which rehabilitated the scheme in 2012.

 

The Situation.

 

Residents say the tunnels dug and cemented by the Company to lead water to their various chambers are too deep to distribute adequate volumes to their farms. They estimate that the main tunnels were technically designed to be three meters deep while the secondary distributive tunnels are estimated to be below two meters deep.

 

The scheme collects Orographic flush floods from the Agoro Mountain ranges. Of the past five years, the amount of rainfall received in the area has been on steady decline, something which has generated huge demands for the technology among communities.  Unfortunately, small holder farmers in the scheme told Black Star News that they are not receiving the water as they percolate in the tunnels lying below their farm surfaces.

 

Technically, farmers should have closed valves on the main tunnels for enough water to flow through to their crops. Sadly, the rationing systems have broken down or were poorly designed.   

 

Molly Lanyero, the Lamwo Woman Member of Parliament says instead of improving access to water for production, the tunnels have drained the area into an arid farmland for farmers to grow crops and achieve bumper harvests. She says government has recognized the challenge and is in the process of rectifying it.

 

The large dam constructed to reserve water for the scheme has also fallen into a state of disrepair. Water from the dam can no longer revert back to the main distributive tunnels. The dam was meant to supply affordable fish to local communities to supplement their animal protein requirement. This is no longer happening.

 

George Oryema Katungulu, a farmer in the scheme says the dam has been personalized by a few individuals in Agoro Self-help irrigation scheme. He says they harvest the fish and sell expensively for ordinary village members to afford.

 

There is more to personalization of the community project; failure to restock the dam by those managing it. Farmers believe that proceeds from the community water reservoir are being mismanaged and they interpret it as deliberate move aimed at frustrating their economy.

 

Jacob Sisto Ocitti, a member of Agoro Self-help Irrigation Scheme Farmer group says the scheme has become a shadow of its former glory to many farmers.

 

“Before the scheme was rehabilitated in 2011 – 2012, it was considered as biblical manna from God to the people of Israel trekking in the wilderness. Today, it lies in ruins and we can no longer use it for food production” he said.

 

Ocitti says while the design envisioned adequate hydraulic water flow to the farms, the design should be changed into gravitational principle in which water flows through pressurized pipes. He says the scheme has failed to fulfil the expectations of the farmers.

 

According to Ocitti, farmers have noticed a decline in the soil fertility of the area as the fertile alluvial mountainous soil from the mountain ranges are trapped and restricted to the water tunnels instead of flowing to nourish their fields.

 

Agricultural Extension Services

 

During the construction, farmers hoped the rehabilitation would usher in a new era of modern farming practices. They expected extension services in crops and animals alongside free farm inputs and mechanization. All these have remained dreams on papers.

 

Farmers are eager to be trained on the concepts of Climate smart agriculture in a changing climatic conditions. But there is no one to teach them. Some of them borrowed loans from financial institutions operating in the area in the hopes that they can venture into mechanization and increase their land acreage while others had targets in high value crops such as Water Melons.  

 

To date, the farms are known for traditional staple food crops –Millet, Sorghum, Rice, Maize and, beans and the common vegetables cabbages, tomatoes, Green Papers and onions which are cultivated in small scales using rudimentary farm implements and family labour. The farmers struggle to bulk their produce together to meet market demands in the region and those in Eastern Uganda.

 

Ocitti said before the rehabilitation works in 2012, six trailers would ferry several tons of Maize and Cereals to markets in Eastern Uganda each week. The supply has significantly dwindled as farmers occasionally bring 40 to 60 bags of Maize for bulking in seasons of bumper harvests.

 

There is acute food shortage in many households farming in Agoro irrigation scheme. Most of these households cannot afford three meals a day. Black Star News spoke to Kevin Aol, a mother of five Children in Agoro trading Center. She said she opted to two meals a day after her production tumbled from 35 bags to 20 bags in 2016.  

     

Aol said the biggest benefit communities have derived from the scheme is the improved road infrastructure in the area. She says the roads were properly compacted for vehicles to collect produce from the farm gates. She explained that this has significantly minimized post-harvest losses.

 

Richard Okanga, 36, doubts whether the whole 27 Billion shillings was used in rehabilitation of the Project. He says there is no value for money realized from the scheme. He wants government to audit the project for corruption which could have been committed in the implementation of the construction.

 

“The shoddy works which took place here has forced many farmers to abandon large scale rice production for Maize. This is because Maize requires little water compared to Rice” he stated.

 

This was confirmed by Francis Todwong, the chairperson of Agoro Irrigation Self Help Farmers Group. He says Rice production declined from 24 bags an acre to 18 bags, something which has discouraged many farmers adding that the scheme has suddenly become too tired to reward farmers.

 

“The rehabilitation seems to have given conducive atmosphere for weeds, pests and diseases to sprout and thrive. In the past, we never engaged in heavy use of pesticides like now. And we knew of only few weeds which were easy to control. But what we are seeing now is unprecedented competition for nutrients between crops we plant and the weeds” Todwong narrated to Black Star News.   

 

Farmers’ Concerns Ignored

 

What is haunting the farmers more is that they were ignored when they raised red flags about the shoddy works that was taking place during the construction of the scheme.

 

Teopista Atim, formerly a Member of the Executive Board of Agoro Self Help Irrigation Scheme says the community was never consulted on the entire architecture neither was the design explained to the farmers. She says this prompted them to visit Kibimba Rice Scheme to learn from the farmers there how the scheme was rehabilitated.

 

“We were utterly shocked that water tunnels in Kibimba Rice Scheme sit on raised grounds – higher grounds - compared to ours here. The design there enable water to reach everyone’s farmland as they needed and in the right amount. We returned and challenged the Contractor to change the design. Look at what we have today” she said sounding frustrated.

 

According to Atim, the Contractor said it was implementing the approved technical design from the Ministry of Water and Environment.

 

Richard Komakech, the Lamwo District Environment Officer says it is the first time the scheme was being rehabilitated by the government of Uganda with funding support from the African Development Bank after the initial construction in the 1970s. He estimates the scheme to cover an area of land measuring 650,000 Acres in the foot of Agoro Mountain ranges.

 

Komakech says the visit the farmers had to Kibimba Rice Scheme triggered a misunderstanding between the Contractor and the farmers to the extent that the area could not adequately be leveled for efficient water flow. He says communities who owned the land customarily objected to the development thinking the government had hidden motives which included taking over their land without compensation.

 

This he said affected the development of the scheme as the contractor prematurely withdrew from the site for fear of emerging risks on his staff and machineries. This left many farm blocks without water when the deep tunnels had already been paved. Komakech told Black Star News that the farmers wanted the Contractor to return to the site after seeing that government had no intention of taking over their farmlands. Unfortunately, it was too late, the damage had already been done.

 

According to Komakech, the Project was meant to benefit 10,000 people.  He urged government to engage the farmers in the planned rehabilitation for value for money to be realized. As it stands now, farming communities in Agoro irrigation scheme will continue to struggle for food security on these changing climatic conditions.

 

Allan Ocaya, the chairperson of Agoro Irrigation Self Help Farmers Group says the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries worked with the Ministry of Water and Environment to map the faulty areas for correction. He says they also plotted some of the affected farms for more focus.

 

“We understand that there are new developments taking place towards correcting the technical glitches. In January 2018, the Ministry of Water assessed the scheme saying they would rehabilitate it with new water canals employing the use of pipes. They said the old canals will be abandoned for pipes to deliver water to all the farms” Ocaya elaborated.

 

Ocaya says they were initially told the work would commence in December 2018. An Advert on Ministry of Water and Environment calls for competent firms to supply the pipes for the Scheme. It is unclear if a contractor has been found though.

 

Cyrus         Richard Komakech, the Lamwo District Agricultural Officer says the main objective of establishing Agoro Irrigation Scheme was to supply water for production to farmers in order to increase their productivities as well as increasing household income of the community. He says unfortunately, none of the above objectives has been achieved due to the faults in design.

   

 

 

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