Uganda's Bumpy Agric Journey: Why Sector Is Limping And What's Our Vision?

Of course, about it I was born and raised in a farmer household. I therefore tend to think that this naturalized me into farmers’ daily realities. I cherish the role of Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE), and Empowering Small Holder Farmers in Markets (ESFIM) and the Knowledge Program (KP) under the rubric of Hivos and International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) that made my learning journeys and farmers’ fireplace conversations exciting and possible.

Some questions that I grappled with, for which I invite readers to reflect on include; Why are majorities in Uganda farmers? Do they fancy it? Is farming in Uganda rewarding? What has been the role of officialdom in shaping the architecture of agriculture sector in Uganda?

Will agriculture sector provide much needed jobs for Uganda’s huge and expanding population?

Why is it that even when global and local prices of food are riding high, farmers are not pocketing the windfall? Forgive my rather sweeping generalizations at this point –I attempt to capture the pulse of the farmer and present concrete cases through lens of a conventional farmer in this discourse. I hope the insights will shape or stimulate honest conversation on this subject.

There are many explanations to the above questions that exceed the scope of this article. There are supply and demand forces that are too serious and too diverse– Bill Gates in his 2012 letter captures a part of this… “We can be more innovative about delivering solutions that already exist to the farmers who need them,” ….. “Knowledge about managing soil and tools like drip irrigation can help poor farmers grow more food today.”

For now I will attempt to articulate my thoughts on last question. The reason farmers are not harvesting the price dividend is twofold; a) Costs of farm production/ productivity are increasing at a higher rate than what the local markets, regional and even global markets can offer. Of course there is no farmer capacity for cost benefit analysis, necessary to project margins across the farmers’ fraternity. I thought groups like Enterprise Uganda would be doing this.

b) The other explanation is weak farmer agency at individual and collective level. With limited access to ferment of information, farmers have limited capacity and stamina to make independent choices and decisions around efficient production and governance of markets; the solution will largely depend on how information technology will be harnessed by farmers and having in place strong producer organizations to negotiate farmer interests. What is really going on?

Locating the fault-line in Uganda’s agriculture policy and the future – The perfect storm

Agricultural policy in Uganda is a broken brick – with no clear and pointed governance locus. Policy documents are as numerous as institutions that run them- whose mandates clash and are mostly engaged in out maneuvering each other.

When ‘elephants fight, it is the ‘grass’ that suffers. The story of ‘grass’- is the story of farmers in Uganda. Discord in policy formulation, implementation and monitoring have left farmers at the margins striving to find affordable and authentic inputs.

Sweating to scale up productivity and ‘praying’ for rains and to find resilient and rewarding markets. Yet associations that are meant to moderate farmers – and through which farmers can exercise agency and organize to navigate officialdom are weak, uncoordinated and suffocating under the weight of elite and political capture.

The question of agriculture governance must be resolved. Where should farmers go for services? National Agricultural Advisory Services? Uganda Coffee Development Authority? Cotton Development Authority? Dairy Development Authority? National Agricultural Research Organization, Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Ministry of Local Government, Prime Minister’s Office, Uganda Industrial Research Institute? etc?, the foregoing are important institutions. The problem is that they are too diverse and seem to work independently with clashing mandates. MAAIF should take coordination role seriously. Now let us look at what is going on?

Interventions like the National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS) are structured as social safety net programs distributing hoes and cassava planting materials. On the contrary, what transforms agriculture is stimulation of agribusiness.

I think the president should expunge NAADS and have it reconfigured to meet the challenges of new age. The current NAADS is about survival and existentialism – and not about modernization,transformation and value for money.

For example, the Auditor General’s report of 2008 reveals that only 37.1 percent of the total money spent on NAADS may be considered as useful expenditure. And yet, since the inception to June 2006, it is estimated that a total of US$ 107 million has been spent on NAADS activities (Auditor General 2008). Issues of corruption and other financial irregularities in the implementation of NAADS programme are common place in the media.

As such, some studies following quantitative approaches such as Benin et al. (2007), and qualitative approaches such as OPM (2005) and Scanagri (2005) provide insights into the glaring fault lines of the NAADS program. In particular, Benin et al. (2007) observed that though there is some positive effect of NAADS on adoption, no significant differences in yields were found between NAADS and non -NAADS farmers. Spending without results is a loss for farmers and entire Ugandan Tax payers – There seems to be absence of value for money in NAADS. There is a multitude of evidence to show declining agriculture productivity in Uganda- this is in spite of long list of interventions;

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For the past 10 years the agricultural sector has lagged behind other sectors, registering a growth of just 1.3 percent – yet the sector employs 68% of the population.

Will the youth venture fund help young farmers?

The youth venture fund is such a great opportunity. What is rather intriguing is that programs that are about opportunity like the foregoing, guidelines for participation are stringent and blind to context. For example, in 2010, while I was a Chief Executive Officer at the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce, we, proposed a youth venture fund that progressive officers at the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development (MFPED) welcomed.

It has been delivered, alas with stringent conditionalities. Will young farmers fulfill the list of requirements under the youth venture fund floated by DFCU? For example, how many young farmers are formally employing 4 people? Even boda doda operators will not access this money. How many have an authentic senior 4 certificate?

The idea of venture funds is never about conditionalities but about capital. I think the logic has been defeated. Venture funds are created to circumvent strict conditions that strain access to capital.

Venture funds are meant to capitalize agile ideas that would rather be stalled because of lack of capital. If we want to create jobs this venture fund must be liberated. A 40% enterprise success will be good for jobs and economic growth.

If 60% fails, we must pick lessons and improve the performance of next round of youth funds. The President has firmly articulated need for agribusiness and value addition. This is yet to pass. This is the time to have a value addition fund in place. This youth venture fund can be a beginning point.

How about the budget allocation to the sector? Agriculture budget allocation has been 5.0% and bellow for the last 25 years (See figure below); But looking deeper, the problem is not only about lean budget per se’ but rather about how the money is utilized.

How much money released by government reaches the farm? The challenge for all of us is to really track our money during implementation. I think barazas and civic groups at grassroots will be helpful. Government should piggyback on this. It’s prudent to increase sector allocation, but the trick could be in making the little available budget work. If we can’t work with a small budget, how will we work with a big one?

See, allocation to agriculture sector 2010/2011

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Looking back to my learning journeys in Uganda and across the world, I firmly concluded that stories, analysis and narrative on the past 25 years have alreadybeen articulated. Now we must build future scenarios and begin honest conversations on the future of agriculture sector in Uganda. To begin this conversation, I put forward a 9 point green print, articulating hooks that must be connected, if Uganda’s agriculture is to be transformed;

1. Tapping into clear opportunities to drive production choices and markets. Let’s take example of coffee. The top five leading exporters of coffee between 2005 and 2009 were Brazil, Vietnam, Germany, Colombia, Switzerland and Belgium. This list is dominated by European countries which do not produce coffee; rather they are re-exporters of the product. See table below;

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Source: ITC, Trade Map, 2011

The key lesson from the foregoing is that by investing to raise value addition and standards capability for coffee exports, Uganda could catch up with leading coffee exporters like Germany, Belgium and Switzerland- EU countries that do not produce coffee, yet remain premier exporters because of their advanced value addition and standards regime. By deepening exports to the Sudan, Poland and China, and exploring other markets, the coffee export performance of Uganda should improve. This strategy is keen on domestic value addition, including compliance with standards for coffee exports as a necessary critical path for Uganda’s competitive advantage.

An uplifting fact is that the consumption of coffee is expected to constantly be greater than production, at least until 2020. Therefore the recommendation is to increase the production and quality of Ugandan coffee. See table below;

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Source: ITC- 2011

2. A national agriculture policy should be promulgated. In order to ensure policy coherence and avoidance of potential policy distortions, there is a need to clarify the relationship between PFA, PMA, RDS and other initiatives, and the value added by each and synergies between these policy approaches. Agriculture planning and implementation of agricultural projects is currently scattered over a wide range of ministries, agencies and political offices and small holder farmers don’t know where to go for services and guidance. There must be a one stop center for agricultural solutions.

3. Move fast to harness Information Technology Dividend; Uganda liberalized telecommunication sector thereby opening the market to both local and foreign investors. This bold step, coupled with the advent of mobile telephony, greatly improved telecommunications in the country. Internet usage is also growing rapidly (usage now at 3,2000,000 with a population of 33,000,000), 10,400,000 connected on mo mobile phones and 228 FM stations.

These are huge platforms for horizontal and vertical information flow necessary to boost production and market efficiency. I have come across facebook pages of young urban farmers around Kampala using facebook platform to market eggs and vegetables. This is awesome.

State agencies and private sector should accentuate this opportunity- the future of the sector lies in innovations of the young population. The digital divide in rural areas should be narrowed. Where rural electrification agency has succeeded, ICT centers should be established. The private sector can take a leading role on this.

4. Urgently depoliticize, revive and revitalize cooperatives in Uganda to organize, provide credit, sale of inputs, marketing insurance and education services to small holder farmers.

The co-operative law in place does not adequately address some of the emerging issues within the co-operative movement. Some sections of the law are inadequate on issues such as governance, education fund, dispute settlement, offences and penalties, ethics and code of conduct. The 2008 SACCO Act which was passed by the cabinet but pending in parliament should be disposed off.

A similar Act-The SACCO Societies Bill, 2007 has already been enacted by parliament in Kenya; the Parliament of Uganda should dust off and pass the law. Strengthened cooperatives can form a bank for its farmer members.

The capture of cooperative by the political elite should be discouraged. Cooperatives should not be centers of settling political scores but rather centers of accentuating farmer agency and governing of markets.

5. Provide Business development services (BDS) subsidy for small holder farmers enterprises. BDS dealing with information, training and other business services should be subsidized to increase the range of services available to small holder farmers and the outreach to all parts of Uganda.

Strengthening and expanding entrepreneurship and small farmer enterprises management programs and their outreach, especially to the women in rural areas will create potential and power of small holder farmers.

How many farmers in Uganda attempt to calculate their production costs – to determine appropriate price for their produce – or rather their margins. Without this, farmers will never have capacity to govern markets.Efficiency of agencies like Enterprise Uganda should be evaluated. If found effective, Enterprise Uganda and other groups involved in business development should be subsidized to deepen entrepreneurship skills at the farm level.

6. Formalize membership of Republic of Southern Sudan (RoSS) into the EAC to have small holder farmers reap cross border market buzz and benefits. It will be a slumber approach if as a country we take RoSS for granted- rather as sacrosanct forever market! No.

The state of Southern Sudan is forming up robustly. The Country is largely pacified with populations settling down in payamsor gombororas in Uganda’s parlance– beginningsmall farms, medium and big farms. They understand that having achieved political sovereignty, the next critical step is food sovereignty.

What will it mean for Uganda’s fresh food exports? We must think ahead and swing into action. Possible two ways out; formalize the country into the EAC. Second; deepen value addition interventions (at farm level or through Private- Private partnerships)to export quality and resilient product in the not so long future RoSS market. For the latter, Kenya is moving ahead saturating Southern Sudan Markets with packed fruits and vegetables. Let’s think and act fast on this as a country.

7. Urgently undertake to remove inhibitive market access barriers that are internally instituted while working with the rest of the member states in the East African community to remove those externally imposed.

For example, the laws between the central and local governments of Uganda should be harmonized, so that they are mutually reinforcing. For example, why should small exporters have to go through alternate access points to acquire formal certification to export a few kilos of maize into Kenya? What is the cost of visiting the hereunder access points- what does it mean for small trader/ farmer profit margins? Can’t we have a central access point at Busia border post for complete one go documentation? See table below;


Access points

Certificate of analysis from a recognized laboratory

Uganda Bureau of Standards and Chemipher (U) Ltd, Acacia road, Kansanga off Gaba road

Phyto sanitary certificate

Plant Health Services (Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries)

Fumigation certificate

Issued by firms registered by agricultural chemicals board

Certificate of Origin (EAC/COMESA)

Issued by Uganda Export Promotion Board and until 2010 by The Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry at UGX 3000

Certificate of conformity

Issued by Uganda Bureau of Standards after the consignment has been cleared for quality ready for export.

Source: A guide for maize traders on regulatory requirements for imports and exports of maize. The East Africa Community 2005/2006.

8. Harness Private –Private and Public –Private partnerships to harness farmer extension. Less than 14% farmers in Uganda see an extension worker. Under NAADS regime, there are only 1600 extension workers mandated to serve 4,000, 000 million farmer households in Uganda.

This is the ratio of 1: 2500 farmer households. Is this practical? How many days will a NAADS extension worker need to reach 2500 households? We have 360 days in a year. If a NAADS extension worker was working 7 days a week, it would take him 6.9 years to do just one round visit of farmer households.

NAADS should urgently tap into the pool of Extension Link farmers that were trained by Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) members all over Uganda in Animal Husbandry and Agronomic practices. The extension link farmers can be easily indentified and retooled.

They carry yellow and blue certificated bearing their credentials. This will bring down the current expansive farmer-extension worker ratio and abridge the current information gap at the farm level. There are other private sector companies and civil Society organizations like VEDCO and PELUM that have trained and work with a cartel of extensionists. Government should coordinate and placate them for a national farmer extension services response.

9. Crop and Livestock ‘wilts’ should be urgently contained and curtailed: The 31% decline in coffee exports in 2010 is a big issue that is mainly attributed to coffee wilt. Other crop and animal diseases like banana wilt, cassava streak virus disease, New Castle fever in poultry, pneumonia in cattle, African swine fever in pigs etc are all big issues affecting agriculture performance.


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