Prioritise agriculture to eradicate hunger

The sector employs 73% of the population aged 10 years and older (UBOS, 2005) who are in crop husbandry.

Dav 703x422

By Davis Akampurira   

Delivering the 2012/13 budget speech at Parliament, the then finance minister Maria Kiwanuka noted rightly that the priorities in the agricultural sector is to ensure food security, provide raw materials and enhance export revenue.  

The above statement by the minister seemed a renewed recognition of the fundamental importance of agriculture to the Ugandan economy and of the central role it has to play in development, economic growth and poverty reduction in line with the National Development Plan and NRM Manifesto.  

Both the Prosperity for All policy, with its goal of improving the lives of all Ugandans, and the new five-year National Development Plan recognise agriculture as one of the key productive sectors driving the economy.

The sector, according to statistics from UBOS, contributes up to nearly 40% of GDP, accounts for 48% of exports and provides a large proportion (43 percent) of the raw materials for industry.

The sector employs 73% of the population aged 10 years and older (UBOS, 2005) who are in crop husbandry.

Despite agriculture being the bedrock of the economy, the current Development Strategic Investment Plan (DSIP) for the sector (2015-2016), however, notes that real growth in agricultural output has declined steadily, from 7.9% in 2000/01 to 0.7% in 2007/08 (although it did show signs of recovery in 2008/09, with a 2.6 percent growth rate). The sector, though, as noted by the finance minister in her 2012/13 budget statement, posted a slight growth of 3 percent per annum.

With 73 percent of all households and the majority of the poor in Uganda depending directly on agriculture for their primary livelihood, this is a serious challenge in the drive to eradicate poverty.

The food and nutrition security situation has also been far from satisfactory as the number of people who are food insecure has increased from 12 million in 1992 to 17.7 million in 2007, an obvious consequence of the high population growth rate. The latest statistics from the World Food Programme portray a grim picture of four million people in Uganda starving!   

Furthermore, while agriculture’s contribution to growth has been disappointing, the export data suggests a slightly different picture. The value of exports of primary agriculture actually grew 16 percent per year on average over the period 2003-2008, according to 2009 UBOS figures.

Part of this is accounted for by increasing exports of food staples to Kenya, Rwanda, and, more recently, to southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Exports of maize and beans to Kenya alone more than doubled from 2004 to 2008 and, in 2008/09, Uganda exported a quarter of its total marketable maize production, supplying half of Kenya’s import demand. Between 2001 and 2007, the COMESA market emerged as the largest market for Uganda’s exports. Indeed, in 2007, COMESA accounted for 38 percent of total exports compared to 24 percent for the EU, once the largest market.

With this buoyant market, the government should promote private sector investment in agriculture and raise farmer productivity.

Under the ongoing restructuring programme of the sector, the government should establish a policy framework to create the enabling environment for farmers, entrepreneurs and investors to make informed and value-enhancing decisions.

Government should further step-up investment in the efficient and effective delivery of core public goods and services such as agricultural research, agricultural advisory services, pest and disease control, regulatory services and among others.

In order to boost production, the government has adopted a commodity based approach under an Agricultural Zoning Strategy, which will focus on 11 selected commodities for increased exports to regional and international markets. Apart from traditional commodities of coffee and tea, other crops were selected for both their versatility as food security and export earning potential. However, this initiative can’t go far if the farmers aren’t empowered enough with the necessary means to turn the zones into viable production units.  

Long run productivity should be improved, through existing or new enterprises to help farmers move up the value chain by public investments in value addition activities with the objective of enhancing rural incomes and livelihoods and general prosperity.

At the same time, parallel but associated investments around staples and basic foods, usually with a different target group, will deliver improved food security at the household level. The agricultural sector will then move towards greater profitability and an improved capacity to compete.

The writer is Team Leader African Leadership Forum

Leave a Reply