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By Mildred Barungi

Uganda’s agriculture sector is expected to contribute to wealth creation and employment along agricultural value chain in a sustainable manner. However, for this to happen, production and productivity must increase. Intensification (increasing output per unit area of cultivated land) of agriculture by use of high-yielding crop varieties, fertiliser, irrigation and pesticides contributes substantively to increased yields and incomes. Indeed, a recent rice value chain study conducted by the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) demonstrated that use of productivity-enhancing technologies and practices in rice production potentially doubles rice productivity and revenues from rice sales (Table 1). The study findings revealed that due to limited intensification efforts, Uganda’s rice sub-sector is losing potential revenue approximately in the range of UGX. 429 billion to 547 billion per year. The findings thus affirm that productivity enhancement through intensification is critical for growth of the agricultural sector and the economy at large.

Table 1: The cost of not intensifying based on the case of rice only  
  National Average Conventional rice production (i.e. limited intensification) Intensified rice production Estimated loss
Seasonal rice yield (MT/Ha) 2.5 2.0 4.3 2.3
Annual rice revenues (billion shillings) 591 473 1,020 547

Sources: Uganda Census of Agriculture 2008/09; 2015 survey of rice farmers in Eastern Uganda; and http://www.infotradeuganda.com/index.php/market-information/food-prices.html.

The critical gap in production is that most farmers are not intensifying

Despite the proven benefits of agricultural intensification, majority of farmers in Uganda do not use improved crop varieties, fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and irrigation. For example, chemical fertilisers are mostly used in coffee and maize production, yet the percentages of farmers that apply fertilisers to the two crops are extremely low (8.4 percent for coffee farmers and 8.0 percent for maize farmers). Similarly, the use of herbicides and pesticides is commonly practiced by coffee and maize farmers, but again the percentages of users are much lower. On the other hand, maize and cassava farmers mostly grow improved varieties but the users are few (21 percent of maize farmers and 20 percent of cassava farmers). Irrigation is almost unheard of; it is commonly practiced by rice farmers and very few of them (about 1.4 percent)—perhaps because of lowland rice varieties that are grown in swamps with relatively easy access to water for irrigation (Table 2).

Table 2: Percentage of farmers practicing intensified crop production; 2013 Season I
  Chemical fertilisers Improved crop varieties Herbicides Pesticides Irrigation
Rice 4.22 14.60 7.30 6.20 1.38
Maize 8.00 21.00 7.70 9.00 0.02
Beans 4.79 11.00 5.60 7.50 0.06
Cassava 1.13 20.10 3.00 2.10 0.01
Banana food 2.05 4.30 3.80 2.30 0.18
Sweet banana 0.00 3.50 6.60 0.80 0.00
Banana sweet 1.35 13.90 3.90 2.90 0.40
Coffee 8.44 8.90 9.20 12.90 0.35

Source: Agricultural Technology and Agribusiness Advisory Services (ATAAS) baseline survey conducted by UBoS in 2014.

 

The unacceptably low levels of agricultural intensification pose huge challenges for attainment of Sustainable Development Goals 1 & 2—of ending extreme poverty and attainment of zero hunger by 2030. The main reasons for not intensifying are: high cost of the inputs, limited access to affordable credit, limited awareness and knowledge about application of agro-inputs and limited access to input markets.

At policy level, opportunities to increase agricultural intensification exist

Plans to promote agricultural intensification are integrated in government policy frameworks. For example;

  1. In the second National Development Plan (NDP II), Government still recognises agriculture as one of the sector with the greatest multiplier effect on the economy; and investment in increasing access to and effective use of critical farm inputs is one of the priority areas of focus.
  1. Cabinet in May 2016 passed the National Fertilizer Policy; its mission is “To have a fertiliser industry that provides affordable and accessible fertilisers to the farmers for increased and sustainable agricultural productivity and farm income”
  1. In 2016 , Cabinet passed the National Agricultural Extension Policy, which is intended to address past shortcomings in agricultural extension service delivery and cause sustained progression of smallholder farmers from subsistence agriculture to market oriented and commercial farming.
  1. In the Agriculture Sector Strategic Plan (ASSP), the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) recognises the role of quality farm inputs in the production process. To this effect, the ASSP has a strategic action to enhance access and use of fertilizers by all categories of farmers so as to contribute to realizing a competitive agricultural sector for wealth creation, employment and inclusive growth.

Recommendations for policy action

The opportunities to increase agricultural intensification should be seized by:

  1. Popularising and implementing the National Fertiliser Policy and National Agricultural Extension Policy.
  1. Fully operationalising the single spine agricultural extension system so as to improve farmers’ access to information, knowledge and improved technologies.
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