Residents of Mbale and Teso sub-regions are worried about a sharp decline in the yield of sweet potatoes, which has been attributed to the advent of sweet potato weevils that have destroyed most farms over the past one year.
Scientists say the weevils are not new to the area or Uganda, but can cause up to 100 percent loss especially during dry periods.
Farmers report that the weevils have caused a sharp drop in the yield as they devour the leaves, preventing photosynthesis.
And the drop in the yield is being felt in the pocket by urban dwellers who’ve had to dig deeper to obtain the popular food item in recent months.
Musa Ojok Isa a resident of Kacumbala Sub County in Bukedea district said that the prices have increased geometrically compared to last year especially in February, “Last year a basin of potatoes cost two thousand shillings (2000) here in the village. But what surprises me is that a basin has increased to six thousand (6000).”
Miriam Namukose a resident of Bussajabwankubwa village in Mbale district said that the price of sweet potatoes has risen sharply in recent months and pushed her on the edge as she now has to spend more on food.
“I used to buy potatoes of three thousand shillings (3000) and could serve a family. But right now I need UGX 8000 to buy the same quantity to be able to feed my family,” Namukose adds.
John Mugisha, a proprietor of a small restaurant in Namakwekwe trading centre said that the high price of potatoes have forced him to take potatoes off the menu, because of customer’s unwillingness to pay a higher price for the food item.
Mugisha says: “After spending on charcoal, potatoes and others requirements such as source and spices, I realized that I was making losses. That is why I decided to stop preparing sweet potatoes.”
Ikello Phiona, a farmer from Ngora district, Teso sub-region noted that the weevils have devastated the crop resulting into heavy losses. She says that as a result of the pest invasion, sweet potatoe yields have been cut by nearly half.
Robert Kabiri, a local council one chairperson of Bulago cell in Northern Division, Mbale district said that the rapid increased price of is because of the outbreak of pests which attacked both potatoes and maize last year. He appealed to the government to come to their rescue by devising a solution to the pests in order to curb the problem of his food prices and also prevent people from dying due to food shortages.
Experts have spoken
One agriculture teacher in Kadimukoli secondary school in Budaka district who preferred anonymity blamed poor farming practices, especially mono-culture for the increased spread of the pest. He also blamed the rampant deforestation which has led to an increase in temperatures that has forced the worms from spread from the forests to farms. He adds that deforestation has led drought since we are no longer receiving cyclonic type of rainfall.
Fredrick Mubalya, an agricultural extension worker told The Sunrise that the worm can be controlled using common pesticides on the market.
Since its emergence less than a year ago, the worm destroyed potato farms in Budaka, Mbale, Kumi, Soroti, Ngora, Palisa, Kibuku and adversely affected the food security situation.