GULU–The minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Vincent Ssempijja, has extended the dateline for Balaalo cattle keepers to leave northern Uganda from January to March due to lack of animal vaccines against foot and mouth disease.
While speaking in a meeting with the district leaders and security teams of Acholi districts; Oyam and Adjumani from Gulu town, he said the ministry will need to procure vaccines within 30 days to vaccinate all the animals before transporting them back to the areas they came from.
He noted that the country is experiencing foot and mouth disease in some areas and the government must first carry out vaccination to avoid spread of diseases.
“We don’t have vaccines in stock and so we are going to import vaccine which will take 30 days to reached Uganda and another 30 days to vaccinate all the cattle in Acholi regions and the next step is to have them transported,” Ssempijja said.
He added that Balaalo must be educated to stop this primitive mode of production.
He noted outbreak of foot and mouth disease like in Kiryandongo district where the available stock of vaccine has been dispatched in the field to fight the epidermic, promising that th ministry will make special order for the cattle in Acholi sub-region.
Recently, regional security meeting district local leaders resolved and issued an ultimatum that all herdsmen in the district of Gulu, Omoro, Amuru, Nwoya, Pader, Oyam, Adjumani, Kitgum, Lamwo, and Agago must leave by January 31, 2018 on condition that the one month period is to allow District veterinary officers vaccinates the animals and transported back to its origin immediately.
During the meeting which involved Balaalo herdsmen, the minister said that Balaalo must abide by the terms and conditions of the presidential directive otherwise there will be no way to help them.
The presidential directive issued October last year says all cattle keepers in the affected districts must rear their animals in a fence land, and follow legal procedures through district leaders and technical staffs since their illegal entrance is reported to have sparked off land conflicts and destruction of land owners.
In the meeting district leaders were instructed by the minister to verify the contract agreement for the Balaalo who have rented land from the land owners so that their presence in the areas is approved by local authorities.
Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, Gulu district chairman, said there is need to understand how the Balaalo entered in the areas and contracted with individual people to use land communally owned.
“We need to know how the Balaalo came, did they secure movement permit, letter of no objection from the District Veterinary Officers, terms of agreement, size if the land each one are using, and how they acquired the land because land in Acholi are owned communally and there is lawlessness. And for those who came totally illegally tough decision will be taken,” Ojara said.
He added that Balaalo who will not meet the requirements will be tasked o leave the areas.
Majority of herdsmen who attended the meeting lamented that the eviction exercise is being pluralized on political and tribal sentiments yet as Ugandan citizen the constitution provide for them to settle anywhere within the country.
Sam Tumusimwe resident of Kirandongo district herding in Pader district begs the district leader in the region to give Balaalo more time to graze there animal because he personally sold his property and borrowed loans to start grazing animals in the Acholi land and he has not yet paid back the loan and he wondered how he will pay back the loans.
Edgar Karabam, a herdsman in Palaro sub-county in Gulu district, blames the regional security committee for not involving the herdsmen and landlords in the meeting that resolved that Balaalo leave by 31st January. He added that in Palaro sub-county the herdsmen do not have problems with the land owners and community but politicians re exaggerating issues and also argued that directive is not fair because it doesn’t order the land owners to refund their money for rent.
However Peter Okoya, 50, a resident of Mede parish in Palaro sub county in Gulu district said his father was forced to give land to Balaalo after the herdsmen have grazed in their 400 acres of land for 5 years without paying them. He said the land was given to be rented for three years at Shs3 million only because their neighbour offered land to Balaalo herdsmen and the herdsmen could roam pass their agreed areas and has left their land useless.
He commended President Museveni for the directive and he wished the implementers take it seriously to safe them from possible outbreak of famine within the near future.
Ssempijja concurred with Gulu resident district commissioner, Capt. Santos Okot Lapolo the exercise of the eviction is not tribal and ethnic as some Balaalo claims, and he advise the Balaalo who want to continue cattle keeping to adopt modern method of production so that government can help them because he has been ordered to bring to an end nomadism in Uganda bybthe president.
He also directed Dr. Otim, the presidential Advisor on Agriculture in Acholi region to avail to the Balaalo the technical requirements of setting up modern animal farm if they still want to continue raring animals in Acholi land. He noted that modern method will bring to an end land conflict caused by uncontrolled movement by nomadic pastoralists.
The minister appointed March 15th as the last date he will come back to review that all Balaalo who are illegally herding cattle in the 10 districts have left the regions.