"Please our President, help us buy this tractor for the people of Mityana." This was an appeal by Deborah Kyazike Kinobe, the LC5 chairperson of Mityana to President Yoweri Museveni. The tractor she was referring to was being exhibited at Mityana Saza grounds, during this year's International Cooperatives Day.
According to Aron Ngobi, the sales engineer with Engsol, the tractor costs sh123m with all its accessories.
The President responded by donating the tractor to the district and after the function, the tractor was 'officially' inaugurated by the district officials, even before the Government paid for it! There was also a walking tractor that can be an alternative for less financially stable farmers.
"If you give us that tractor, we shall give you food, a lot of food," the LC5 chairperson promised the President.
At just sh123m each, there is no reason why the LC5 chairperson of a district that receives at least sh1bn as NAADS money every year should be pleading with the President to buy 'her people' a tractor.
"My farmers will never overcome poverty while they are still using the hand hoe as their main farm tool. We need this tractor to uplift their standards," Kinobe claims.
Mechanising agriculture has been promoted for several years now. However, the progress is so slow that the number of tractors in Uganda remains almost invisible. According to statistics, there are currently around 800 operating heavy duty tractors in the country.
"For agriculture mechanisation to work, we need at least six thousand tractors in Uganda," says agriculturist and former MP, Henry Mutebi Kityo. In Mityana, farmers in Busujju are already benefiting from a tractor scheme initiated by area the MP Vincent Nyanzi. "All you need is buy fuel and pay the tractor driver and he will plough your farm," says Mark Kizito, a resident. Busujju is known for producing maize, tea, coffee and other foods.
Using a hand hoe, Kyazike's farmers need at least one week to effectively plough an acre of land. A Heavy duty tractor would plough the same area in six hours. "And it is not just about the space covered by the tractor, it is also about the depth of the ploughing," Aaron says.
While a hand hoe digs an average of 3 inches, a tractor can dig as deep as a foot, hence reaching the fertile soils. "Yields on land ploughed by a tractor are far higher than those on land ploughed using a hand hoe," says George William Kibodhe, a farmer in Kayunga who uses a tractor on his farm.
"You hear the Government buying very expensive cars for its officials. Why not spare some money to buy us tractors?" queries Simon Bautu, a farmer in Luuka, Busoga.
"And these tractors do not last for just five years, they last about 20 years," Aaron Ngobi points out. On the other hand, the expensive Government cars last for an average of five years!
If the tractors are bought, they can be able to maintain themselves through user charges. At the moment, farmers pay between sh120,000 and sh150,000 to hire a tractor to plough an acre of land. "In most cases, you have to wait for many months before you get it because the tractors themselves are not available.
If they are bought by the Government, the charges will be much lower," Bautu says.
For the last three years, UGIRAN has been assembling tractors in Uganda. This is a joint venture between the National Enterprises Corporation, an arm of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) production wing and the Government of Iran.
"Ever since we started assembling these tractors in Uganda last year, we have sold at least 150 tractors," says Abbey Mubiru, of Ugiran.
The main Ugiran tractor costs sh54m. A set of hoes or ploughs costs sh13m while a trailer costs sh8m. One of the advantages of having a locally assembled tractor is that the buying terms are favorable. Farmers can acquire the tractors on a hire purchase system too. The spare parts are available and the guaranty is genuine.