By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Heather Grady, the Vice President of the Rockefeller Foundation, an international humanitarian organisation, on July 4 spoke at Makerere University about climate change, food security, and the introduction of agriculture insurance. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati interviewed her.
Insurance for agriculture is new in Uganda. How will it work?
When you look at the development of agriculture in many developed countries, the insurance of the farmers is very important. Of course the advantage of insurance is that it caters for the risks. So this is a very important innovation that needs to be brought to farmers who are already facing threats from climate change. We are already trying this in a couple of countries. In Kenya we have this scheme where farmers are paying premium to insurance companies who compensate them in case of crop failure or poor yields and for post harvest storage losses. In Ethiopia we have a project called HORITA (Horn of Africa Risk Transfer Agriculture) being supported by Oxfam and again this is covering the risks where mainstream insurance companies would not reach poor smallholder farmers. We are already working with the poor small holder farmers at individual and group levels. The results are encouraging. We think that if African governments supported this project food security and production would be enhanced.
Has agriculture insurance started in Uganda?
We are looking at trying it at a pilot scheme. It’s working out in Kenya where farmers are paying premium to insurance companies and I am sure some of these companies are same in Uganda and will replicate it here. The insurance model in Ethiopia is among farmers because we don’t have a well developed insurance sector there. It is being implemented through labour and it will come to African countries where the industry is less developed.
What innovations are you coming up for the rural farmers who depend on rain and unreliable weather conditions to do farming to help them probably switch to better technologies as they farm?
I think one of the most important innovations is production of more drought resistant varieties and treating the diseases. We are achieving this by supporting institutions like NARO and Makerere School of agriculture and ICT to come with solutions that would help farmers. We are supporting the university in the ICT department to develop software that can be used to disseminate weather information to farmers through mobile phones, for instance. To be able to tackle climate change problems we need to invest in human resource and research that will bring innovative solutions to the farmers. So the new information systems that will come from ICT will be very important. We are also working with the communities teaching them how to improve their agriculture knowledge and teaching them how to cope with challenges of climate change.
Agriculture is one of the least funded sectors in this country. When you talk of financing agriculture how are you going to disseminate these funds to the farmer in the rural area?
Historically there has been a real drop in the funding for agriculture in the last couple of decades. But we also know that agriculture was well funded 30 to 40 years earlier. Agricultural extension services have gone down. We are working with Makerere University to improve research in agriculture. We will continue to fund this area and I think universities and individual NGOs will be partners and source of money for this sector. We are also looking at private sector funders coming into this area to give support to poor farmers which will later unlock many millions of dollars when used appropriately. I think we will continue to have a portfolio of farmers being supported.
How much money are you looking at to put in this sector and how much grant have you put in the sector so far?
We have been building climate change resilience initiatives in the region. We have already committed $70 million where a big portion will go to sub-Sahara Africa and within that a good portion of it is here in Uganda. We have given this university grants totaling $130 million. We are also implementing the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) project to encourage banks and government to avail credit for agriculture and Uganda is one of the benefiting countries. The project has an objective of improving food security to millions of Africans. So far the Foundation has spent $140 million for this project. We aim at triggering government resources to impact investment in agriculture.
But there is fear that AGRA is promoting fertilizers that are not all that good to the soils. How are you handling such issues?
The Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa cares about soil health and emphasises that healthy environment, so you may be able to double agriculture production without doubling the use of fertilisers. We are encouraging farmers to use local manure like utilising animal waste to double the production. But again we know very well there are benefits and risks to the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers but these are becoming more expensive and we are encouraging innovations to get alternative fertilisers as we look at climate change.
Agriculture involves land ownership, production, processing and access to markets, yet commercial banks are less interested in lending to farmers. How will the farmer access funding?
The reality on the ground is not as desperate as you put. The approach that AGRA has adopted is holistic in nature; we look at the soils, seeds, production, markets and government policies. We are working with two banks here and have given them grants so that they can give it to the farmers at affordable rates. We share risks with the private sector who reach the money to the whole farming chain.