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THE LAST WORD: Uganda’s agricultural crisis

 

THE LAST WORD: By Andrew M. Mwenda

 How politics, not the drought, explains the current famine our country is experiencing

According a report by the government of Uganda last week nearly 11 million people in this country do not have enough food to eat. I have concerns with the way the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) calculates growth in agriculture. I also have queries on how they ask people the meals they have in a day. I will return to these concerns later in this article.

There has been a drought in the country. This has been followed by famine. Practically everyone thinks the famine has been caused by the drought. Yet droughts do not cause famine. Politics or public policy does. Dubai is a desert where they do not even grow food yet they have never had a famine. Why?

A drought is a natural phenomenon characterised by insufficient rainfall leading to shortage of water. Famine is a social phenomenon characterised by food shortage leading to hunger and starvation. The transition from drought to famine is mediated by political institutions and public policies surrounding the relationship between rainfall and food supply. How?

If our institutions and policies worked, we would have invested in irrigation (so droughts would not hurt as much) or there would be a lot of food imported. America has had a drought for almost eight years without any shortage in food supply. Also the Ministry of Agriculture would have had programs for food storage both at the household level (families to have granaries) and at the national level (government to own storage facilities and buy food when there is plenty and sell when there is scarcity).

The point is that over the last 30 years, the government of President Yoweri Museveni has done very well in certain sectors of our economy – where ironically critics claim it has failed. But it has been abysmal in agriculture, where critics are incoherent. For example, while over the last 30 years growth in manufacturing has averaged 9.8% and services 7.1%, agriculture has averaged 3.33%. Because population growth has averaged 3.12%, per capita growth in agriculture has been 0.21%.

The situation in agriculture is even more worrying because according to the 2014 Housing and Population Census, 80% of Ugandans are involved in agriculture; 69% rely on subsistence farming as their main source of livelihood. This means that most growth over the last 30 years has concentrated income in urban areas where manufacturing and most services take place. Indeed, today agriculture contributes only 22% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), meaning that 20% of the population takes 78% of income; 80% earn only 22% of this income.

Secondly, over the last 30 years Uganda has realised no productivity growth in agriculture. By productivity I mean output per unit factor input i.e. one acre of land should produce more maize; one seed should bear more kilograms of the crop and one person should cultivate more land per hour. In Netherlands, for example, one acre of land produces 13,000kg of maize. In Uganda one acre produces 800kg. To realise productivity gains to equal the Netherlands, Ugandans have to apply modern technology: use irrigation, fertilisers, improved seed (which are high yielding and fast maturing) and apply tractors and combine-harvesters.

For the last 30 years there has been little or no application of modern technology in agriculture. Thus we have few places where they use irrigation; use of fertilizers is even below Sub Sahara African standards, there has been minimum application of tractors and combine harvesters (so post-harvest losses are very high), we have very low adoption of improved seed varieties which are fast maturing and high yielding.

Thus, growth in agriculture in Uganda has been sluggish precisely because it is driven by increasing the number of hands using the hoe, lengthening the time spent digging in the garden and increasing the acreage of land under cultivation.

16 comments

  1. Andrew,
    Part of the problem is our (we as citizens) own expectation of government to initiate everything. You see young ‘old man’, the fact is – (as you know better than I do) that governments, in Africa generally and in Uganda specifically are incompetent. This is not to say only your newly found friend – M7 (sorry if mistaken) is – but the whole lot of elite and semi elite chaps in the country including me, you, the noisy (good-for-nothing) opposition politicians and others have let this agriculture thing slide to what we are seeing now.
    We have all along expected some amorphous thing called ‘government’ to start huge irrigation programs using the Nile basin waters to no avail: we forgot that we are part of the mess. In spite of AIDS, Malaria and road accidents, we have bred and multiplied like there is no tomorrow; the elites, who should have known better how to prepare to avert this famine crisis have found attraction in non farm-work and many have even forgotten how they used to suffer in ‘famine’ days during their youth because now they can afford whatever food from anywhere on this globe.
    We the elites – whether in govt or not – have grabbed land in wetlands and denuded most of them. We are now seeing a long term annual rainfall decline and are only blaming colleagues in government. Even when we blame them, we do not offer alternatives. We, the ‘blamers’, do nothing on our part to alleviate the situation.
    Yet, as I argue in a forthcoming 2 language small ‘Irrigation’ book (whose shorter series by the way ‘The Independent’ could not run), there is much – we as better exposed Ugandans – can do to overcome these droughts. We are lucky enough to still have some rain: our country is not yet a semi desert; most of our soils have not yet shown significant deterioration; we do not need government to go into the intricacies of negotiating with so many other players in the Nile basin on starting huge, corruption ridden irrigation schemes. (They may – only as a bonus to our own efforts). We need to simply mobilize for rain water harvesting: beginning at the home level. where you and me are the alphas of government. In my little ka-book, I show how. And in a couple of years, at some small farm in Kyegegwa district (yes that dry county of beautiful Tooro), my sons – in re-orientation training now – should demonstrate this to the rest of the community.
    Pan-Africanist/Inventor, Eng. Kant Ateenyi

  2. I used to like it so so much(I mean Agriculture) I love watering plants,backyard farming,crop husbandry the only thing i have failed to master is digging.(i feel i can chop off my feet)

    When you read about the Great famine in Ireland in 1848 you will appreciate that Ug is truly gifted. (The Bazungu died for real)a good number of the irish migrated to USA because of the Famine that was caused by potato Blight disease.Here in Uganda there are a variety of crops & every region is unique in its own way there is no specialization when it comes to crop production.

    Why are we dying of hunger?its coz we cant think for ourselves govt has to think for us how much does a watering can cost? are we aware that if we blocked R.Nile from flowing to Sudan & Egypt, Ug would flood?i hear the likes of Kant proposing use of irrigation r they aware that irrigation is meant for large scale farming? who will pay for the fuel the irrigation equipment uses?

    During the ireland femine govt put in place measures like they; introduced the soup kitchen where govt cooked food for its citizens,they imported maize from USA untill autumn and they proposed to ban export of food.

    Ugandans have alot of appetetie these days u find Omeros taking porridge like a breastfeeding Mum

    • Kant Kanyarusoke

      Sister Winnie,
      I am sorry you failed to master digging: but you don’t have to be a master of that. (Not even me, the writer is). For example, you say you do backyard farming – and water the crops, thus ‘irrigating’ and chasing away potential famine (and probably malnutrition) or probably ‘compound ugliness’ from your home. That is okay dear. My point in responding to your dear Andrew is to stress the point that we ‘the elite’ and ‘semi elite’ can do a lot on our own without having to wait for government to initiate big ‘plans’ for some of our colleagues to eventually mess up with.
      As for my advocacy of irrigation, I advise you to find time to read my series in one of the dailies (has been coming out every Monday since end of last year). [I am sorry ‘our’ dear Independent could not run these series – for whatever reason]. If not, wait a bit for my ka-book on the same in English later this year or in Runyakitara early next year (if you can read the latter). The point I make in this ka-book is we do not have to divert the Nile or even negotiate with anyone on starting home based irrigation schemes. I also indicate opportunities that can be availed by supplies of inputs, handling of resulting crops/foods and for those in social sciences and law, opportunities in negotiations and conflict resolutions. One other thing that might interest you as a lady: the beautification and mental comfort that comes with year round fresh food and ‘free’ fresh water availability at the doorstep of your home.
      Cheers – and stay well and safe.
      Eng Kant Ateenyi

      • When an Engineer veers into writing books then you know there is a problem i know your type you must be accounting for the donor funds you received.How do you author a book on agriculture with no experience in that field?

        Its not necessary for the elites to engage in subsistence farming coz they can afford to buy food from the market besides that those who leave in “urban slums” dont have space to plant crops. Those in the village need to be encouraged to accept that farming is a good business. they should not feel sad the Rajab is driving a car of UBA series in 2016 yet its a 1992 model .

        There may be famine in Ug but we also eat a lot especially men.

        • Kant Kanyarusoke

          My dear Sister!!
          I am again sorry – this time about your misinformation. Who lied to you that an engineer cannot be a farmer or even a writer – especially on the engineering of agriculture? This is part of Africa’s elitist problem: some of us think because we went to school to study ‘X’, we should not relate that ‘X’ to critical things happening around us. But True Engineering is different from what you think my dear sister. It is the subject that applies the fundamental laws of nature (read Physical Science) to design and CREATE physical systems that serve man’s needs. Because the needs are diverse and virtually limitless, you find engineers in all areas of human endeavour: Agric.; War; Space travel; Politics (do you know why US in its early days – was – and now China is – largely run by Engineers?), Medicine (we normally joke with modern doctors that if it were not for us, they would be worse off than witch doctors), etc.
          Do I have to account to any donor? Certainly not in the way you think dear. I studied and now teach Mechanical Engineering. I practiced Industrial-Mechanical Engineering; I researched Solar Energy Engineering; I design and do business in Solar Engineering systems. In all my work, the principle donors have been compatriot African tax payers: in Uganda, in Nigeria and in South Africa during my doctoral work.(In 2010, I was asked to do solar engineering research for UK old age homes – but I flatly refused). I owe these ‘donors’ something. Apart from teaching their children, I want to leave a series of books behind so that the pay-back can outlive me.

          I hope this clears your mind about Engineering and why I am doing what I am doing.

          Stay well – and clear of confusing agents.

          Pan Africanist, Eng. Kant Ateenyi

          • You are a jack of all trade and it seems you like intimidating women and seducing women. ..

            No doubt Scientists rule the world but Solar Energy that you carried out research in may be/is a fraud many homesteads are being ripped off of their little income 1st of all you need to buy batteries,it cant supply power to electrical appliances with big volts now whats that?

            I know in Agriculture, there is Mechanization of Agriculture how different is it from Agricultural Engineering u are talking of?

            Many schools of thought believe that Industrial Engineering and Environmental Engineering are a concoction of the main stream Engineering which are Mechanical,Electrical and Civil Engineering..

            I believe in new innovations but not concoctions and duplication of course units to make them full programmes thats why its easier to follow the Medicine coz there are specialists like; Gynecology,Pediatrician,Dentists,Dermatologists,Urologists etc

            I still believe that for purposes of saving costs and Uganda being a developing nation we need cheap innovations like the ones from NARO and Kawanda not some highly worded theoretical research from a wanaa be agriculturalist/author.

          • Kant Kanyarusoke

            Eh sister!!
            You are too ‘stubborn’ – calling me all sorts of funny things. Now what do I tell you? I agree with and certainly respect and support NARO in their biologiy – based research work. I also partially agree with you on initial costs of solar electricity (But do you know the true initial cost to you of grid supply in your house?): and that is why we are working tooth and nail to overcome that battery problem for home use. However, solar energy utility is much more than electrification. In fact, some of my own patented products do not even have to use electricity! My star rural water purifier needs no electricity; One of my crop/fruit dryers needs zero electricity; A version of my solar tracker needs zero electricity; A variant of the Solar powered refrigerator needs no electricity; An indoor solar cooker shortly to be launched will need no battery and will work even at night. For irrigation pumps referred to in my ka book, a battery is not a MUST.
            On being a wannabe agriculturalist, I was born of peasant farmers and I farmed (among other things) my way to school. As for writing – Yes – all responsible academics ought to write when they have the chance to. There is nothing special there!
            Please again, as a ‘good’ debating sister, I wish you well – with NO STRINGS ATTACHED!!

          • Solar power is meant for retired & patient people( Most of them unfortunately live in rural areas.

            Now why would a Ugandan need a crop drier with the kind of weather in Ug?(moreover a farmer in the village) Before raising our hopes Why dont you pattern with big electrical companies like Phillips,Kenwood,Samsung to ascertain whether your researcher is worth the praise?

            I know there is alot of money in Research thats why u r feeling sweet nayee slow down on that solar Business its good that you acknowledge its limitations.

            Since you are bragging that u r a successful scientist I would rather you carried out more research in Bio Gas than in solar energy.

            Dont ever offend me by putting the word good debater in quotes.

          • Kant Kanyarusoke

            Sister,
            You are a brave and courageous lady (no quotes madam) – but let us ‘cease fire’ here. I can only say that I am quite a de-colonised African elite that values service to my African pple (especially rural folk) more than looking for praises through partnering with those who may have different priorities. That is my choice and I hope we respect it. For avoidance of any doubt, watch part of my 2014 presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5aGOLkLJXQ and other related presentations if you have time.

            Cheers – and thanks for the hard fight!

            Pan Africanist, Eng. Kant Ateenyi

          • Kant Kanyarusoke

            Sorry sister – I think the better link is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT45KSEmMKw&t=249s

          • All i was saying is that improve on solar efficiency.

            I watched your presentation it must have been vetted by a scientific committee it was good nayee next time dont hold your hankie like that during presentation(it showed that you were indeed decolonised) a hankie has to be properly ironed and folded.(It showed that yo

          • Winnie you don’t know what are talking about. Most of it is medieval thinking. Technology isn’t simply application of science. It takes creativity. Science didn’t and would never invent flight. Engineering was cheated by the Nobel Estate executioners (lawyers) that never gave recognition to engineering it deserved. Nobel money is engineering money. The celebrated microprocessor is an engineering achievement.

          • You never comprehend anything do you?

  3. ימפּאָסטער

    13,000 kg/acre maize is a falsehood.

  4. The problem with Africa is that it is the driest continent. Agriculture, requiring a lot of water as it does, is untenable in many areas and countries. Africa is a large dry continent.

    • Kant Kanyarusoke

      Brother Ocheto,
      Thanks for your observations: Just correct the notion that our continent is the driest: Australia has that unenviable title. But it is true our deserts are big and ‘horribly’ dry. But they are largely unoccupied. Coming back to our country, Uganda, I am sure you agree the problem is not that we live in a dry country. We get rain water somehow – and let it flow out of the country almost as it used to do before we settled here. Now that we have multiplied and ‘mismanaged’ the land, we are being awakened to the need to do something about this water we simply let go. That is why me – as perhaps one of the better placed persons to give an input – opted to write some simplified work on the subject. And by the way, I am glad some Ugandans are already consulting on the proposed system at http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1447318/president-museveni-simplicity (in case you missed it).

      Cheers – Brother,

      Eng. Kant Ateenyi

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