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The beautiful garden that can’t feed the hungry

By Enock Musinguzi

Uganda cannot sit on a green belt and continue to sit on its hands as the terminally arid region starves to death.

In his ‘My African Journey’, Winston Churchill wrote “My journey is at an end, the tale is told………concentrate upon Uganda! Nowhere else in Africa will a little money go so far. Nowhere else will the results be more brilliant, more substantial or more rapidly realised. Uganda is from end to end one’ beautiful garden’, where the staple food of the people grows without labour. Does it not sound like paradise on earth? It is ‘the pearl of Africa!’”

More than a century after these remarks were made and tremendous advancement in technology, how much brilliant harvests of staple food have we realised for the starving region?

Although we tend to shower the mother land with praise statement like conducive agro-climatic conditions, fertile soils and adequate rainfall, the Uganda we are living in today is obviously much different from the one Churchill left. Soil fertility on farms has been declining sharply. According to International Food Policy Research Institute report, of all Sub-Saharan African nations, Uganda has some of the most severe soil nutrient depletion in Africa: about 1.2 percent of nutrient stock stored in the topsoil is depleted by farmers each year. Data from WHO, FAO and our own Uganda Bureau of Statistics  even paints a grimmer picture. With an average fertility rate of 6.7 children per woman and population growth rate of 3.4% per annum, Uganda does not only pride itself in having the world’s  third highest population surge but the distribution of the population is such that 78% of it is rural and depends on subsistence agriculture for a  livelihood. This has meant that while Uganda is home to some of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in Africa with more than 5,000 plant species, 345 mammals, 1,015 birds, 165 reptiles, and 43 amphibians, between 1990 and 2005 the country lost 26.3 percent of its forest cover. And deforestation continues at 2.2 percent per year mostly due to subsistence farming, cutting trees for firewood and by the burgeoning population. Despite widespread recognition of the importance of inorganic fertilisers, use rates remain lamentably low. Ugandan farmers use an average of one kilogram of nutrients per hectare of arable land compared to 35 in Kenya, 22 in Malawi and 13 in

Tanzania. Indeed as some people describe Uganda “gifted by nature but mismanaged by man”.

Is it the ‘paradise on earth’ any more that Churchill saw? Certainly not. The most worrying thing is that those who should take action are in deep slumber, enjoying the comfort and fortunes that come with power. But is the ‘beautiful garden’ incapable of producing the ‘staple food’ anymore? I don’t think so, although not ‘without labour’ this time. According to the regional food security outlook report by the Food and Nutrition Security Working Group (FSNWG) based in Nairobi, although affected by the drought-described by the UN agency as the worst in 50 years in the Horn of Africa, Uganda has not suffered yet as much as Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia where more than 10 million people are in dire need of food.

So what will it take for Uganda to become the ‘beautiful garden’ it once was? I am not sure I have the answer. In the budget, a fund for the youth was mentioned and we have also heard of plans to build silos. At present, I bet there is not much to keep in those silos because not much is being produced. So, what if government worked out a scheme by identifying irrigable land in each region and a private commercial farmer who would work with 500-1000 unemployed graduates to produce a stated minimum quantity of maize in tonnes each season?  The government could also fund extension of irrigation schemes on such farms and at the end of each year, maize from the silos would be sold to markets in the region when the price becomes competitive. The proceeds would then be shared following a developed mechanism between the lead commercial farmer and the youths. The youths would then be ‘weaned off’ after two years, after getting some start-up capital and a new group of youths would be introduced. Uganda cannot sit on a green belt and continue to sit on its hands as the continuously arid region starves to death. It’s time to bring back the ‘paradise on earth’ that Churchill saw by tilling and using improved technologies in the ‘beautiful garden’.

We have to contain our population growth and  stop this reckless siring of children. We need countrywide tree planting days and other measures to curb deforestation and above all, we have to support enforcement of Ugandan laws without political interference.

Surely President Museveni’s government has failed to curb the situation described above but where are the viable proposals from the opposition? The opposition also seems to be bankrupt on ideas of taking from where Museveni has gotten stuck in the mud dug by self.  Our president has been living on his political and economic ‘pension’ savings that he worked hard for between 1986 and 1996. He has not added on those savings for 15 years now. The current strikes are an indication that people have lost faith in him being the signatory to the “pension fund’ he created, because of his increasingly irrational spending patterns, priorities and managerial ability. But where are the opposition’s alternative views to get us out of this hole? They are waiting to point out government failures in 2016! Looking at how majority of our opposition have opted to take the bait of the Shs20m funds to monitor NAADS sign-posts (because NAADS is really non-existent), we might as well be expecting too much out of these fellows. Our parliamentarians seem to agree on a common agenda only when it comes to increasing their salaries and allocating themselves public property as the rest of Ugandans struggle in vain to get themselves out of the vicious cycle of food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty in this green country. Wouldn’t we save money to pay civil servants by reducing RDCs and their assistants to one resident commissioner per region? How about reducing the number of districts and each district is represented by one parliamentarian? Can’t we do away with presidential advisors who never advise the president? After all, the permanent secretaries can provide the same service.

We need to hear such voices and researched debates. Unfortunately, the opposition have joined government in the sleep and are snoring as we poverty and food shortage takes its toll on the country.


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