Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Uganda applauds the WFP plan to buy more crops

The World Food Programme plans to expand its food crop buying program this year. The new program called "Purchase for Progress" will buy directly from small farmers. The experimental aid program recently received a big grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to get it started.

From the Ugandan Newspaper The Daily Monitor, Dorothy Nakaweesi explains the effect that "Purchase for Progress" could have on the country.

Traditionally WFP has been buying only maize and beans from Uganda. Last year, the programme purchased maize and beans worth close to $34 million (Shs64.4 billion). However, in the next three years, it’s planning to double its spending by buying more than $100 million (Shs190 billion) worth of food annually. “WFP will buy other staple foods such as millet, sorghum, sesame and cassava products besides maize and beans,” Country Director of WFP, Stanlake Samkange, recently said.

Buying food directly from small-scale farmers, especially at high prices, helps improve the quality of life for the poorest people. Recently the agency begun buying food through the warehouse receipt system in a bid to increase direct assistance to small-scale farmers and support the government’s poverty eradication efforts.

President of Uganda National Farmers Federation Frank Tumwebaze, in an interview with Daily Monitor said; “We are glad for WFP’s initiative. It is going to give the farmers a guaranteed market.” He said given the high prices of food, which dramatically shot up last year, many farmers embarked on an extensive increase in their acreages which means there will be sufficient food for consumption and sale.

Mr Tumwesigye however said the challenge farmers are facing is the changing weather pattern which is not reliable. “Because of the weather changes, farmers may not guarantee good yields and this may - in some seasons - lead to low supplies,” Mr Tumweisigye said. He urged the government to come up with a disaster management programme so that when the weather becomes hostile, farmers are assured of assistance especially in terms of emergency seeds.

Meanwhile, WFP last year bought food worth $53million in Uganda and spent $14 million on local commercial transporters. Mr Samkange said local transporters moved about 90 per cent of this food mostly to destinations in Uganda, but also to Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. “Last year was most challenging but most rewarding,” Mr Samkange added. “Conflicts coupled with failed harvests caused reduced agricultural production in the region. This led to a severe scarcity of food and doubling of the prices of maize and beans.”

With the help of donors, WFP was able to purchase an annual total of 109,000 tons of food from local traders and small-scale farmers. Buying food locally and using local transporters boosts Uganda’s economy. Local purchase helps WFP reach needy people faster while avoiding costs of shipping food from abroad. The agency can therefore utilise donor funds better in an era of high food and fuel prices.

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