The volume and value of rice exports from Uganda have registered a gradual growth since 2004.
According to statistics from the Uganda Export Promotions Board (UEPB), in 2007, Uganda exported 24.8 million kilogrammes of rice, which brought in revenues amounting to $7 million compared to last year’s $10 million on volume of 25 million kilogrammes. That translates to an increase of 50.14 per cent in value on the back of a 2.33 per cent rise in volume.
On the other hand, the revenue earned by wheat exports has increased although Uganda imports more than 90 per cent of the type it consumes locally. Reports from UEPB indicate that between 2007 and 2008, there was a 50.4 per cent increase in revenue and 4.37 per cent increase in volume.
Mr Samuel Mukwaya, a senior trade promotion officer Agriculture and Bio-trade at the UEPB, told Business Power that: “People buy final wheat products from the milling companies and export it to other countries like Juba in Sudan. However, the millers import the grains from outside and process the final products.”
Millers say the demand for wheat flour has been increasing with the growth of the baking industries in Uganda and that the supply is not enough to feed the local and the international markets.
“The Ugandan market grew at six per cent between 2008 and 2009,” Mr Dons Tibeijuka, the in charge of sales at the Unga Millers (U) Limited said last week.
Although wheat can do well on Uganda’s soil, there are few farmers who engage in its production.
According to Okaasai Opolot, the commissioner for crop production and marketing in the agriculture ministry, wheat is grown on a very small scale only in Kapchorwa and Kabale districts.
The strength of the dollar against the local currency would have been blamed for the rise in the price of cereals, but the local currency has recently regained strength against the American currency. Millers now attribute the rise in prices of wheat to piracy along the Indian Ocean.
This has made the ship owners fear allowing their ships use the Red Sea route. This delays the ferrying of the commodity so much that it takes longer to arrive in Uganda than it used to and hence creating the present scarcity in the supply with the consequent increase in prices.
Because of the scarcity, millers have intensified efforts to bring in wheat by road in addition to the rail but they are pessimistic that the high transport costs, which range between Shs186,000 and Shs195,300 ($100-105) will bring any relief in prices. This has seen millers pass on the increased costs to the local markets.
In 2008, a bag of 50 kilogrammes sold Shs55,000 but today, the price of the same bag stands at Shs71,000. On the other hand, millers sold 24 kilogrammes of home baking flour at Shs27,700 compared to today when the price is Shs.37, 700
Although sometimes climatic changes slow wheat processing, millers say the biggest challenge now is power rationing.
“The use of generators to provide power also forces us to hike prices because all the costs of production, which include use of a generator are passed onto the final product,” Mr Adams Amenya, the general manager of Unga Millers (U) Limited told Business Power.
Wheat grains are mainly imported from outside countries because the Ugandan production is at a very low scale. Such countries include USA, Russia, Argentina, Ukraine, Poland and Kenya.
Concerning rice, over the years, global rice markets have significantly impacted regional and domestic consumption and production patterns.
Major rice producing countries like Pakistan, India and Vietnam continue to be major sources of regional rice imports.
In Uganda, rice is becoming a primary food source for a bigger part of its population and enhancing the sustainability and productivity of rice based systems is becoming a priority.
This will require the commitment of both the civil society and the government to succeed.
However, trends point to a growing export tonnage of rice from Uganda to the regional markets of DRC, Rwanda, Sudan and Burundi.
Mr Hillary Rugema, the coordinator, crop extension Sasakawa 2000, says that the scarcity in rice supply was also a result of the drought that hit the country in the recent past. He adds that due to the global credit crunch, the farmers lacked enough capital to fund their schemes.
“They could not afford inputs like fertilisers that cost Shs250,000 per 50 kilogrammes,” he added. This led to low productivity that saw the price of paddy rice increase from between Shs500 and Shs1,000 per kilo gramme to Shs800 and Shs2,000 per kilo depending on the type of rice.
Sasakawa Global 2000 collaborates with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), and operates through the district and sub-county agricultural staff. It also collaborates with other NGO’s engaged in rural development. Mr Rugema adds that the government has played a big role in increasing the production of rice.“The Vice President’s office has promoted the growing of rice in the uplands and many people are doing it,” he said.
However, experts are optimistic that if villages specialised in production of given commodities, the quantity and quality would improve. He adds that formation of cooperatives through, which help groups can be reached can help increase productivity.
“We don’t have cash crops; most crops are grown on a subsistence scale. The market for cereals is there locally and internationally, the challenge is production,” he concluded.
SCOLA KAMAU & CHRISTINE KATENDE