Let’s talk about the promised hoes, pads

There has been an outcry following President Museveni’s directive to budget for 18 million hoes for free distribution to six million families in 2016.

The disappointment is mostly expressed in urban Uganda, especially Kampala. This is understandable because it is the urbanites that mostly listen to and are aware of Museveni’s pronouncements regarding Uganda’s ambition to become a middle-income economy by 2021. Uganda’s Vision 2040 goes further and promises space travel and more by 2040.

Consequently, planning for 18 million hoes by our leader and champion of the ambitious Vision 2040 seems like a mismatch. Whilst 18 million hoes seem to be too many, it just boils down to three hoes per family and that is realistic. These hoes are targeting about 17 per cent of the population – and that is understandable.

There is also the NRM promise of free sanitary pads to school-going girls that has equally annoyed the urbanites. Challenge is that the sanitary pads are essential and urgently needed because a significant number of rural children are missing school every month when in their menstrual periods.

Whilst the promises may excite many rural families, President Museveni and NRM must reflect

on these campaign promises and accept that their motives seem questionable, especially coming out now.

For how long has government known that rural girls need sanitary pads that would help improve their school attendance or their livelihoods? For how long has government known that families need help with provision of hoes? Why was this not a priority last year or the many years before in which we have had NRM?

Further examination of policy around hoes and sanitary pads is necessary. Did the president’s advisers inform him that a tax was levied on hoes and other farm inputs last year? Has there been a review of the effects of this negative tax on production after its implementation? By the way, sanitary pads are also taxed!

Now the retail price of a hoe is Shs 10,000 and, on average, sanitary pads cost Shs 3,500 per packet. So, is government saying that in 2015, six million families need help of Shs 10,000 or that families with school-going girl children cannot afford Shs 3,500 once a month?

These are worrying times, indeed. How then will we afford the local $25,000 (Shs 82m) Kiira Sedan cars set to hit the road in 2018?

However, it is only urban Uganda that does not understand the importance of the hoe. Do these people think that my mother needs a tractor for her gardens? Is she any different from other rural dwellers that grow their own food and have enough left to supply at markets? Name any five food growers that you know of!

The majority of farmers that use tractors do not grow food and when they do, it is for export. That hoe is feeding Uganda; a most honourable job despite the name-calling from urbanites when we say smallholder farming is for peasants, poor people, the uneducated…!

In addition, very few rural people have large chunks of land that would benefit from tractor or machinery-aided farming. In Kayunga, some large-scale farmers have accused politicians of fuelling land disputes with locals from whom they bought land for food production. Also note that some of the high-food producing areas such as Kigezi are geographically-challenging for tractors.

It seems that the offer of hoes or even sanitary pads is a ploy to disempower local politicians, especially from the opposition, who have rural votes. Many members of parliament either donate the hoes themselves or seek grants from charity organisations to donate sanitary ware to their constituents.

Consequently, government’s newly-found compassion for rural folks is suspect! People in villages can buy hoes and/or other farm equipment, especially if they are made cheaper by removing the tax imposed last year. The same goes for sanitary pads. It is better to tax farm products – and this is difficult, but it can be done.

Finally, government should work on improving its ‘message’! On the one hand, there is rhetoric on the promotion of large-scale farming but then free hoes are promised because it is finally understood that smallholder farmers feed the nation.

As the cliché goes, ‘walk the talk’. It is pointless saying that you want big farmers when some politicians are handing back land bought after complaints from vendors who sold willingly. Do not claim to love rural folk that grow your food but then tax their tools.


The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers


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