Uganda: Small-scale farmers profit by switching from cotton to sunflowers

| April 15, 2013

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Seventy-four-year-old Odongo George has worked hard his whole life. But a shortage of land and low cotton prices in his native Uganda have kept him poor.

Mr. Odongo hails from Abongoamone village, about 25 kilometres north of the city of Lira in northern Uganda. He started growing cotton in 1960 on less than half a hectare of land.

For many years, Mr. Odongo rarely grew food crops or other cash crops. His family frequently went hungry because cotton occupies land for six to seven months before it is ready for sale.

For five decades, Mr. Odongo harvested and sold his cotton. And each year, he was forced to use all his income to pay back the debts he had accumulated during the growing season.

In 2010, he planted one and a quarter hectares and received his best ever harvest. He sold 400 kilograms to the Cotton Development Organization, but received only $148 US. He says: “I used the money to pay for the beans and maize I borrowed from a neighbour for family consumption. My children couldn’t go beyond primary school because I could not afford to pay school fees for them in secondary school.’’

Mr. Livingstone Otto is a 42-year-old school teacher from Abongoamone and former cotton farmer. After graduating from a National Teachers’ College in 1999, he planted cotton to supplement his income. He says, “I grew cotton for two years, but gave up after realizing that my profit dwindled every year.’’ Mr. Livingstone decided to switch from cotton to sunflowers. Prices were much better and he made a profit after only two seasons.

After seeing Mr. Livingston’s success, Mr. Odongo decided to give the new crop a try. He planted two acres and harvested thirteen 90-kilogram bags in the first six months, worth 90,000 Ugandan Shillings ($35 US) each. His harvest sold for more than a million Ugandan shillings, three times what he had earned from cotton. In 2012, he grew soya beans alongside his sunflowers, and earned $1500 US from the two crops.

Now that he grows sunflowers, Mr. Odongo’s house has much more food. He says, “My family now has enough food because we have time to grow beans, cassava, maize and sweet potatoes for home consumption.’’

Sunflowers have rekindled hope in Mr. Odongo’s life. He is able to pay for his third-born son to study at Comboni College in Lira, and now owns a pair of oxen and an ox-plough. He says, “My new source of income has enabled me [to] set [up] a two-bedroom permanent house. I no longer have to worry about my financial stability.’’