Kitgum Farmers Shun 'Bad Tempered' Donkeys

4926 Views Kitgum, Uganda
A program of the National Agricultural Research Organization to introduce donkeys for animal traction in Kitgum district is struggling to take off. The donkeys were introduced as a cheap alternative to oxen. They were to be used to provide driving power for ploughs or other machinery used on farms. However a shortage of trained personnel and equipment for use in the animal traction is forcing people in Kitgum to abandon the donkeys in favor of traditional tilling methods. Helen Atto of Palabek Kal has ten donkeys. She says her husband bought a donkey from Karamoja 10 years ago with the hope of using it for farming. She was unable to train that donkey or its offspring because it was very aggressive and she has not put them to use. In Atto's neighborhood, many other donkeys roam the fields all day. Atto is frustrated. She says she wants to sell her donkeys, but no one wants to buy them. The use of donkeys for animal traction in Uganda dates back to 1909 among farmers in what was then known as Bukedi district. In 1910 a ploughing school was opened in the district and in 1920 the current Serere Agricultural Research Institute was opened as a center for training in animal traction. To this day, the grass savanna districts of Kapchorwa, Soroti, Kumi and the northern parts of Tororo and Pallisa districts remain the main centres of animal power technology. There has been considerable extension of the technology in districts of Lira, Gulu, and Kitgum and into parts of the Iganga district. The officer in charge of the National Agricultural Research satellite station in Kitgum, James Omach, says there is no one to handle the 11 donkeys. He says the last time anyone actively used the donkeys for farming was more than a decade ago when the Kitgum District Farm Institute was still open. Omach says once the institute closed all skilled personnel left. Now, the satellite station is stuck with donkeys that it must feed and treat or auction off soon to relieve the research organization of the expense. Peter Abal, the District Agricultural Officer, says part of the problem with the donkeys is that equipment to use them is not widely available. He explains that unlike oxen that use a simple yoke and plough, donkeys require special shoulder straps that are not accessible to people in Kitgum. //Cue in: iGetting those shoulder straps #i Cue out: i# not very available.i// Peter Abal says there are also numerous biases against using donkeys. He says many people believe the donkeys to be bad tempered, often becoming violent when they are tire. Donkeys cannot be eaten and so they can't be used for dowry or food. They are also considered to be weaker than oxen. However a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Government of Japan on the use of donkeys by women in Uganda found that the opposite was true. It found that donkeys are lighter and easier to handle and train than oxen. They are a lower-risk investment than oxen, particularly where veterinary services are scarce and conditions harsh. Donkeys also require very little time in terms of feeding because they take care of themselves, grazing on any available shrub or plant, even in the dry season. Because of donkeys' association with low social status and poverty, men are willing to let women control them. They are also less likely to be stolen.