By Carolyne Muyama
According to the 2016 Poverty Assessment by World Bank, between 2006 and 2013 poverty in Uganda reduced from 53.2% to 34.6% and this is attributed to the significant increase in agricultural income, good rainfall, favorable prices, and political stability. During that period Uganda reduced monetary poverty at a very rapid rate. The proportion of the Ugandan population living below the national poverty line declined from 31.1% in 2006 to 19.7% in 2013. Similarly, the country was one of the fastest in Sub-Saharan Africa to reduce the share of its population living on $1.90 per day or less, from 53.2% in 2006 to 34.6% in 2013.
In Uganda, the agriculture sector employees over 70% of the population and contributes 26% to the national GDP. In the financial year 2016/2017 government increased the funds towards agriculture by 65% to 832b although this is only 3% of the national budget, which is way below the Maputo declaration of 2008 that requires members to apportion at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture. The argument here could be that Government of Uganda has invested in other social sectors like energy, transport and health care which directly impact agriculture.
It is without a doubt that agriculture will play a big role in achieving Uganda’s Vision 2040. The overall objective of the agriculture sector is to promote food and nutrition security and contribute to household income through deliberate coordinated interventions. Agriculture accounts for 79% of the national poverty reduction observed between 2006 and 2013, which underscores the important role the sector plays in creating lucrative livelihoods.
As the backbone of Uganda’s economy, agriculture contributes to over 70% of Uganda’s export earnings and provides the bulk of raw materials for predominantly agro-based industries. That means government needs to prioritize the agriculture sector and support and encourage the farmers through research, affordable implements and access to markets.
The biggest percentage of farmers in Uganda is of small scale basically growing food for consumption and a small portion for sale. Even those who do commercial farming are doing it on small pieces of land but are contributing immensely to the country’s economy as illustrated. Uganda still grapples with the challenge of how to shift farmers from subsistence to commercial agriculture in a hope that this will improve GDP and Ugandans out of poverty.
The encouraging news is research has proved that an acre of land is enough for a farmer in Uganda to shift from the poor to the non poor farming household. The research also deduced that increasing farm size alone is not a silver bullet but only one ingredient of the successful structural transformation in Uganda. There is need for a reexamination of agricultural policies with a focus on extension services, input availability and quality, and access to credit.
In fact research has shown that significant output of farm size stops after 10 acres. This means even with the current land challenges in Uganda, farmers can still maximize output from their land and get out of poverty. This means the biggest percentage of Ugandans have a chance of contributing to the development of this country if they decided to make good use of the land they own.
President Yoweri Museveni’s emphasis for Ugandans to make use of the land they have to engage in agriculture both for food production and commercial purposes is in tandem with the research. Meaning leaders should continue to encourage people to utilize their land as government works on improving breeds, controlling pests and availing markets for farmers.
In Uganda mechanization of agriculture is almost non-existent mostly because Ugandans cannot afford the cost of buying and maintaining implements like tractors. The terrain of the soils is also another factor and yet the most fertile soils are located in hilly areas. There is a practice in Uganda to parcel land into small pieces, which makes large scale farming almost impossible. The issue of absentee landlords also adversely affects agriculture output as the rich people buy off villages of land, which they leave idle and leave the sellers poor and with little or no space for farming. The land policy should also seriously be revised. The issue of selling land to foreigners should be addressed urgently if Uganda is to maximally gain from agriculture given its impact on the economy. Lest, foreigners start selling food to indigenous Ugandans in their own country.
The climate projections in Sub Saharan Africa forecast an increase in the intensity and frequency of droughts. The rain fed character of agriculture in Africa presents challenges as the small scale farmers who are responsible for the largest percentage of agriculture production are the least equipped to adapt. Uganda still relies more on natural endowment than on created advantage like lower transport and electricity costs, superior seed technology, and stronger institutions.
The President’s effort to show people how to irrigate their gardens during the dry season is welcome but cannot be enough. Much as Ugandans need to take harvesting water seriously government should drill dams for communities especially those whose water sources are few and scarce. The extended drought we have had in the past months has shown that if we don’t think outside the box on how to address this challenge more Ugandans will continue die of hunger and the economy will greatly stall.
There should be an arrangement by government to ensure that semi- arid areas where agriculture doesn’t do well get food from other areas of the country that produce food in plenty.
Of course the issue of silos should be taken seriously and at village level each homestead should have a granary where food is stored for times when there is food scarcity. It is a shame for a country like Uganda with very fertile soils and two rainfall seasons to be asking for regional or international help because certain communities don’t have food and yet during bumper harvests food rots away in gardens. The reason why farmers sell off food crops like maize and beans from their gardens is because they don’t have means of storing these crops for seasons when there is scarcity for them to get some reasonable money.
As government encourages more people to get into agriculture or to increase production, the issue of market should be addressed because as we have seen, people will only produce the quantity the market will consume. Agriculture is one of the surest ways every Ugandan can make a living because as sure as we live we shall eat. Our biggest task it to strive to meet regional and international market standards.