Uganda: COVID-19 ban on livestock markets makes life difficult for chicken farmer

| July 6, 2020

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Geoffrey Komakech is a poultry farmer in Uganda’s Gulu district who has taken up construction work for extra income. He is currently raising 200 broilers and can usually count on a steady income from selling chickens to vendors. But in late March, the government of Uganda banned public gatherings, livestock markets, school attendance, and public transportation. Livestock can only be sold on the farms of origin. As a result, Mr. Komakech’s usual customers are not buying his chickens. Other livestock farmers are seeing less demand from butchers as well.

This story was originally published on April 27.

It’s 12 o’clock noon on a hot sunny day, and the temperature is soaring to 30 degrees Celsius. But Geoffrey Komakech is busy roofing a house to earn extra income. Mr. Komakech lives in Latwong village, Awach sub-county, in northern Uganda’s Gulu district.

The 40-year-old chicken farmer says, “Currently, I am raising about 200 broilers and I hope I will have an opportunity to sell them.” But restrictions on livestock markets because of COVID-19 have changed everything and Mr. Komakech is worried about his income.

He says: “My income has been reduced as a result of the COVID-19 ban on livestock markets because people who were buying from me have all stopped buying chickens. This is affecting my income which I use to support my family.”

On March 22, the Government of Uganda announced that, to control the spread of COVID-19, which had infected 53 people in the country at that time, it would ban all public gatherings, livestock markets, school attendance, and transport systems. The ban was introduced for a month, but has since been extended.

In early June, some restrictions were lifted, including the ban on public transportation. By the end of June, there were more than 800 cases of COVID-19 in the country and public transport, while allowed, was limited to half of capacity. Private vehicles were allowed with a limit of four persons, and masks were required in public. Public gatherings were allowed, but with a limit of 10 people.

In late March and April, livestock could only be sold on the farms where they were raised. As of the end of June, open markets for livestock and crops were still closed.

The ban on livestock markets is difficult for poultry farmers like Mr. Komakech. He explains, “Before the coronavirus epidemic, my busy day would start around eight o’clock in the morning. I would usually start making telephone calls to my business contacts.”

He adds: “Each day, I would deliver at least ten chickens to my customers and I was earning about 100,000 Ugandan shillings ($27 US). This money was helping me pay school fees for my six children.”

But because livestock markets are now banned, Mr. Komakech cannot sell chickens to his customers. Most of his customers are vendors, and with the outbreak of COVID-19, he is not selling any chickens.

He used to make a good income. He explains: “Feeding 200 chickens costs me about 1,400,000 Ugandan shillings ($372 US) for a period of one month and ten days. After selling all the chickens, I used to earn a profit of about 600,000 Ugandan shillings ($159 US) [every month and 10 days].”

Obalim Charles is the veterinary officer in Gulu district. He says that, although livestock markets have been banned, farmers can still sell their animals on their farms, or deliver directly to customers. Mr. Charles explains that many livestock markets are crowded and do not have handwashing facilities, a risk factor in the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Ruth Aceng is Uganda’s Minister of Health. She says that measures such as the ban on livestock markets are proving to be an effective way of avoiding transmission of COVID-19. Dr. Aceng adds, “Without a lockdown or social distancing measures, the epidemic would get out of hand.”

Kiasano Olanya is a livestock farmer and the chairperson of the Gulu District Butchers Association. He says, “We used to slaughter 20 cattle per day to sell at our butchers but now we slaughter and sell between six and ten cattle per day.”

Mr. Olanya says that, with the ban on livestock markets, he cannot travel long distances to buy cattle to sell, so is buying livestock from nearby farms.

Mr. Komakech’s customers sell chickens at small roadside restaurants in Gulu town. But their businesses have been banned to control the spread of COVID-19, and now Mr. Komakech has not customers.

He says he won’t stop rearing chickens because of the COVID-19 ban, but will rather reduce his expenses. He plans to start making his own chicken feed. Currently, he has all his chickens are feeding free range, which reduces his expenses.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.