A drastic decline in prices of Matooke has frustrated farmers from parts of Ankole, one of the biggest producers of Matooke both a cash and food crop.
Matooke production has over the years transformed livelihoods across the region, with more people depending on the food crop to earn a living, a story which is almost similar in the areas of Buhweju, Bushenyi, Ibanda, Isingiro, Kiruhura, Mbarara, Ntungamo Rubirizi and Rwampara, among others.
But many of the farmers are now struggling as the cost of a bunch of Matooke hit the lowest mark going for as low as 2,000 Shillings from 15,000 to 25,000 before the lockdown. The farmers say that although the price drops are expected during the peak harvest season running from June to August, the drop this year is unprecedented.
Annet Natukunda Kitende, a Banana trader at Kasana Market said that this is the biggest drop she has witnessed for the last four years that she has been in the business. Natukunda says that she now buys a bunch of Matooke at 1,000 Shillings from the farmer and sells it between 2,000 to 4,000 Shillings to the consumer.
Edward Muheki, a farmer that owns up to 15 acres of Banana plantations in Mbarara district says he has incurred losses this year than never before. Muheki, suspects that the drop was caused by effects of the COVID-19 lockdown which affected the movement of traders from other urban Centres and consumption patterns among city dwellers.
Susan Orishaba, another farmer in Bireere Sub-county, Isingiro District partly blames the drop on the ban on public gatherings. She said weddings and burials used to contribute a lot to the consumption of Matooke, a market which is now nonexistent.
Today, she adds, one needs to sell over 20 bunches of Matooke to buy a five kilograms bag of maize flour. “A bunch is 1500, a kilo of flour is 2500, you need to sell 10 bunches to buy a five kilograms bag of posho flour, that’s how cheap the matooke is today.” She said.
Rev. Can, Godfrey Ngabirano Karitani, another farmer who owns over 30 acres in Katerera village in Rwampara district says the number of banana traders has decreased compared to those that used to comb the villages before the lockdown.
He adds that several markets, where distance traders from Kampala and South Sudan used to buy Matooke have been closed for failing to implement Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures.
He says farmers have to deal with the challenge of middlemen and that the current situation has given them the advantage to determine the price of Matooke from the garden
Rubirizi district commercial Officer Deo Abimpe said they are advocating for Banana cooperatives so that the farmers can have one voice when determining prices .