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Agriculture: No budget, no food – Minister Onek

By Onghwens Kisangala

The Independents Onghwens Kisangala talked to tAgriculture Minister Hillary Onek on the performance of the sector and how Uganda is dealing with food insecurity, high food prices and produce marketing.

Agriculture is one of the most crucial sectors in the livelihoods of Ugandans but also is persistently one of the least funded. How is the sector performing especially in this financial year?

Our budget has consistently been under 4% of the national budget, and this year we went down to 3.8%. In real terms it cannot even finance 10% of our programs. In fact we trying to lobby that since this year has been dedicated to infrastructure, next year should be dedicated to agriculture. The infrastructure took over 30% of the budget this year, so if we got the same consideration, we would be able to improve on the tools for agro production, we tractorize especially those areas with vast lands. We would not want to see land idle.

In the last financial year agriculture contributed 21% to the GDP. The sector also provides approximately 70 percent of the employment and most industries and services depend on it. What is the logic of allocating it only 3.8% of its budget.

I think the main problem is that our resource envelop is small; there have been competing priorities that our government has been facing. Uganda has been fighting wars in Northern Uganda, in Congo and Southern Sudan, and the security of the country is very important.

Uganda’s population is currently growing at a rate 3.2%. It is projected to reach 40.6million by 2017. How will Uganda cope with its current agro production rate of 0.7%?

In fact those parameters you have mentioned are the basis of our planning. We know that if we go into more intensive farming in smaller land, develop capacity in the population to start producing sustainably, our production growth rate will go way beyond 6%. If we got the money we need for the strategic plan that we have, that will happen.

With the increasing population, expanding market and widening agro-industrial need, food insecurity especially in Karamoja increased in the last one year. How will Uganda cope?

We have a strategic plan to mechanize production processes for increased capacity for higher production of particularly cereals and some of the tuber crops and if the plan is supported in the next budget, we should be able to increase agricultural production in the country.

The high prices are not bad as the market widens to Kenya and Southern Sudan, this is an opportunity for our peasants to also generate high revenue but currently with the poor technology of the hand-hoe, we are not able to match the demand and supply. The main problem in Karamoja is water resource and proper utilization of these water resources. We have not had any well coordinated approach to dealing with Karamoja problem. The ministry of water for example has a lot of money to put in place valley dams; drill bore holes and the rest of it, which needs to be coordinated with the ministry of agriculture in agro production so that we can develop irrigation in Karamoja.

Currently a kilo of maize in Busoga is about Ushs 200, while a bunch of matooke in the western Uganda goes for as low as shs500. How do farmers benefit with this poor produce marketing?

Yes our produce marketing system is not good especially for peasant crops. We don’t have organized marketing and I believe that the ministry of Trade in charge of marketing could be relevant on this. As ministry of agriculture we are trying to sensitize the population to go for co-operative marketing. They agree on one crop to grow and plan for its marketing together. But in doing this they need to be supported and we are trying it through NAADS.

Government introduced walking tractors to farmers in the north but reports show they are extremely inefficient. How did this come about?

I must say walking tractors have not been really the ministry of agricultures project, and I dont think there was enough analysis and evaluations of its benefits done to completion. You know these tractors are like these animal tractors with one plough which are a pair of oxen pulling one plough with a man behind it. The walking tractor also has one plough with a person behind it. It has an diesel engine and requires maintenance and spares. To me the evaluation was totally inadequate.

So the walking tractors project was a failure, true or false?

True. Our population is technologically illiterate. A tractor like that one, highly complex in nature, cannot be handled competently by our farmers. That is why I would go for the real tractors for which we have many drivers and repairers in the country side. Then as wealth increases in the hands of the peasants some of them can go and buy their own.

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