On 25th June, 2015, the Economic Policy Research Centre conducted the fourth annual forum on agriculture and food security, focusing on intensifying smallholder crop production in Uganda. Agriculture is a strategic sector of development: it employs 66% of the workforce, contributes to 37% of GDP, and contributes the highest proportion to export earnings at 40%. Despite all this, the sector notoriously suffers poor performance at 2% growth per annum, significantly lower than the services and industry sectors.
 
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The agricultural sector is largely dominated by smallholder farmers at 80%, whose average farm size is less than 2 hectares. These farmers produce at such low levels that there is barely a surplus for sale on the domestic market let alone for export, keeping them in a cycle of poverty. Moreover, due to population growth and declining soil fertility, farmers are opening up new lands; mostly by encroaching on wetlands and forests. As a result, Uganda has the highest rate of deforestation and soil depletion in the East African Community (EAC). Given our population growth rate of 3.1%, this is unsustainable. It is projected that in 40 years, Uganda’s population will surpass 100 million people. Without intensifying food production, the country will be faced with either food insecurity or an increased import bill as it struggles to match food availability to the population size.
 
The problem is that there is hardly any kind of intensification in Uganda. It would be possible to double yields of small holder farmers through intensification rather than land expansion. The pillars of intensification are: use of improved seed and fertilisers, irrigation, and mechanization. However, 30% of farmers use improved seeds and of these 85% have been recycled, only 0.9% of farmers use irrigation and mechanization, and 1.1% use only one type fertilizer – the lowest proportion in the EAC. Even among those that use fertilizer, nearly all use fake or adulterated versions. Other problems facing the agricultural sector are resource constraints, limited collaboration among stakeholders, negative mindsets towards the sector, poor knowledge economy, and lack of organization among farmers. Risk such as weather, volatile prices, disease, and policy shocks is also an especially important problem for farmers. There is fear that intensification could be an added risk.
 
One of the major causes is a paucity of effective policies on intensification. All policies must be based on research and consultation and go through the process of problem identification, policy design, analysis, formulation, consultation, and implementation. However, the policy formulation process in Uganda is teeming with setbacks which include limited capacity for formulation, adoption and especially implementation, confusion of mandates at intra and inter-ministerial level, delays in policy adoption, poor Monitoring and Evaluation data, limited use of evaluation results for policy formulation, and challenges in aligning and linking policies with the agricultural sector plans.
 
Government efforts to meet policy challenges have been dogged by poor sequencing and implementation. For example, strategies are put in place to enforce policies but the agriculture Development Strategy and Investment Plan (DSIP) of 2010 was enforced 3 years before the formulation of a National Agricultural Policy (NAP) which also failed to fit into the framework of the first National Development Plan (NDPI) of 2010. In addition, the National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS), created in 2001 to provide demand driven extension services to farmers through input distribution and technical support, was working parallel to and in competition with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) as a semi-autonomous government agency. Needless to say, it did not even fully deliver on its mandate. After 12 years of operation, only 26% of farmers countrywide had been reached by their services. The main problem cited is that since the agency was semi-autonomous; out of the MAAIF sphere of influence, it suffered capture from varying political interests. 
 
Currently, the government has redirected distribution of agricultural inputs to the army through Operation Wealth Creation and created (but not implemented) a Single Spine Extension System to streamline extension service provision. Whether these new developments are logical rather than political is still under question. There is no link between the single spine system and farmers or researchers for example, which existed under NAADS.
Several solutions have been suggested or are underway to turn the situation around:
I)                    Financial deepening is needed in the agricultural sector. Research from Policy Action for Sustainable Intensification of Cropping Systems (PASIC) shows that farmers who have greater access to wealth and / or savings tend to engage more in intensification and even diversification to spread risk.
II)                  Policy implementers such as parliamentarians and ministers need to engage more in the agriculture policy process to ensure some of the policies that have been lying dormant for years such as the seed and fertilizer policies are implemented.
III)                Greater collaboration is needed between the different stakeholders such as the farmers, research institutes, politicians and government officials to ensure that policies go through the proper formulation process.
IV)               Zonal Investment Plans have been formulated by PASIC to boost value chains in particular agro-ecological areas especially for rice and irish potatoes.

V)                 Uganda should take lessons from countries that have managed to boost their agricultural sectors such as Ghana, Rwanda, India, and Nigeria.

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