The current scarcity of maize in Uganda has driven many smallholder poultry farmers out of business due to the increasing prices of poultry feeds.
The price of maize bran, a key byproduct of maize that is an essential ingredient in maize feed, has gone up.
Mugerwa Lawrence, 52, who has reared chicken for the past 15 years, says he has not made any profit on selling chickens since December 2016, when he sold 180 birds. He blamed this on the rising price of feeds.
Nalugwa Harriet, proprietor of Arizona Feeds in Kampala, said Uganda’s export of maize to Kenya and Tanzania has created a shortage leading to a hike in prices by traders who buy from large scale farmers.
“Presently a kilogramme of maize is Ush1,600, up from Ush600 and who knows, it could go up to Ush2,000 by the time they read the budget, if government doesn’t offer incentives to import maize bran,” she said.
A maize crisis in Kenya at the end of last year excited Ugandan farmers after prices rose dramatically to meet demand in the neigbouring country.
However, a sustained drought in much of sub-Saharan Africa where maize is a key staple and the recent invasion of the fall army worm are believed to have affected at least 60 districts in Uganda and devastated the crop in at least 20 countries in the region.
This has raised fears of a negative impact on the food value chain ranging from maize meal for direct human consumption to livestock and poultry feeds.
Balancing the supply and demand between humans and animals is a delicate act given that millers have to satisfy both markets says Ms Nalugwa.
According to Ms Nalugwa, 50 kilogrammes of pallet feeds for broilers has doubled in price from Ush80,000 ($22.8) to Ush133,000 ($38).
Mixed feeds from downtown with silver fish now trades at Ush150,000, up from Ush120,000. The sharp increase has forced some farmers to abandon rooster farming.
As at February 2017, Uganda had exported more than 28,000 tonnes of maize worth $14 million to the region, but projections for this year are not as rosy.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, so far Ush4.5 billion has been set aside by the government to deal with the army worm invasion.
Currently, prices of both chicken and eggs in the market have significantly risen. A tray of eggs sells for between Ush8,500 ($2.4), Ush10,000 ($2.8) in local markets around Kampala and grocery stores. The price of chicken has jumped from an average Ush10,000 for a three-week old broiler in local markets to between Ush15,000 and Ush20,000.
According to Kenneth Katungisa, the deputy chief executive secretary at Uganda National Farmers Federation, the poultry business will be left to a handful of people who can both grow and produce their own maize, in this case, large holder farmers. Only this group can, in the long run, meet the demand of both the local and international markets.
“Right now, for one to start a poultry business of 800 birds, needs more than Ush5 million ($1,428.5) which was not the case in 2010 where one required only Ush1 million ($285.7) because of the increase in poultry feed prices,” he added.
With the current increase in prices of poultry feeds, many farmers have been forced to sell off their chicken at low prices, especially broilers that have attained a certain age.