William Matovu Discusses the Impact of COVID-19 on Uganda's Small-Scale Farmers

By Bethany Ivie

September 24, 2020

A woman walks in a green field carrying fodder on her shoulder.
Photo via Heifer International.

As the country director of Heifer International Uganda, William Matovu knows a thing or two about the manifold challenges facing small-scale farmers. To ensure that he and his team understood the true extent of the pandemic’s effect on Uganda's small-scale farmers, Matovu and his team surveyed producers in different parts of the country. The results are shared in the Heifer International Uganda COVID-19 Impact Report, which provides summary findings gathered from 448 smallholder farmers in the eastern, central and northern regions of Uganda, along with qualitative data from 10 agri-hubs, four small businesses and three district governments.

During his #HeiferTogether discussion with Heifer CEO Pierre Ferrari on September 22, Matovu shared findings from the COVID-19 impact report and discussed how to prepare small-scale farmers for success even in the midst of crisis. 

  • The most striking finding from the Heifer Uganda study was the sheer scope.  “Our findings from the study, which we did in May 2020, found that 97% of the farmers who had participated in this study had had a reduction in their income,” said Matovu. “In fact, 83% of those farmers had their incomes drop by more than 50%. So that is huge, and it made us think, 'How are we going to respond?’” 
  • This drastic decrease in income has forced farmers to dip into their savings just to stay afloat. “We saw that close to 83% of farmers who we had organized in savings and lending groups were no longer able to save,” said Matovu.  "So, after the lockdown, we saw that their savings had been watered down and that is having drastic implications on how they are running their businesses."
  • Matovu also noted that, according to their findings, the pandemic is affecting some farmers less harshly – those who belong to producer co-ops. “One of the learnings we found is that organizing and strengthening farmers into producer groups is very critical and central … to ensure that they can fit into supply chains, especially the informal supply chains that you have in settings like ours,” he said. 
  • “Another thing of note is that it is important to focus on innovation and technology, but that would be innovation and technology that works,” said Matovu. For example, farmers who had access to a cold room or refrigeration system during the lockdown were able to save some of their harvests. Equipping groups of farmers with appropriate technologies ensures that when disaster comes and markets are delayed, their product doesn’t spoil and can be sold at a later date.
  • When it comes to preparing small-scale farmers for the new normal, Matovu pointed out that offering and teaching skills is essential. "When I talk of skills what I mean is – do farmers have management skills? Do they have business skills? Do they have networking skills? Are they building relationships with suppliers?" said Matovu. "We are seeing that there are specific sets of skills that farmers need if they are to fit into the new normal. So, focusing on skilling farmers and preparing them will ensure that events, pandemics like this one don’t affect them.”