A close analysis of the agriculture sector in Uganda indicates declining exports despite the East African country having the greatest potential and comparative advantage to produce and export agricultural commodities.

Uganda is at the verge of losing its status as a food-producing superpower in the region and needs a drastic overhaul of its agricultural policy if it hopes to compete in the East African markets and feed more of its own people.

The argument is that the existing policies have not specifically focused on increasing investments to increase agricultural exports.

For instance, the current five-year Agriculture Sector Development Strategy and Investment Plan (DSIP) does not provide a clear investment plan to target and increase production and export of agricultural commodities.

The share of primary agricultural commodity exports in total exports is declining—from 61 per cent in 2005 to 46 per cent in 2008.

Therefore to increase the share of agricultural exports in total share, there is need for increased investment in the sector by both private and public, which calls for gross overhaul of Uganda's policies on agriculture.

The Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), a local think tank, says Uganda needs to prioritize agriculture production for exports basing on lessons learned from some countries in South East Asia as Malaysia and South Korea.

"These countries transformed agriculture because of a strong focus on exports. Indeed, the policy of increasing household incomes can be sustainably possible when agriculture production is for exports," said Lawrence Bategeka, a Principal Fellow with EPRC at the Agriculture and Food Security Forum on the theme, "Unlocking the export potential of Uganda's agriculture sector," held on June 6, 2013 at Hotel Africana in Kampala, Uganda.

Bategeka said two major strategies-Plans for Modernization of Agriculture and its successor, Agriculture Development Investment Strategy (DSIP), which were couched within the framework of liberalization-should be disbanded.

"We argue that the DISP did not explicitly prioritize production for exports," he said, "Key proposals in the DISP like zoning and support to the commodities have hardly been implemented beyond the situation that obtained prior to the DISP coming on board."

The researcher notes that although Uganda's agricultural exports both to the European and neighbouring markets were on the rise there was no sustainable flow because of market failure.

"Fish and cut-flower exports were destined to the European markets. Here the problem was not narrowness of the export markets but inadequate support to the producers of the commodities," he revealed.

Bategeka has proposed that government refocuses its energies on exports like coffee from which the country earns about $400m and could increase to $1.2bn in the next four years.

He said: "For example, foreign firms are now engaging in coffee production in Uganda, especially Arabica, to take advantage of the high profit margins. The state should help Ugandan small scale peasant coffee producers by directing and assisting them in coffee production."

To reinforce Bategeka's argument, his colleague, a fellow researcher, Dr Geofrey Okoboi, said Uganda needs to focus on only two commodities for maximum investment and gains.

"Government should first of all invest in the design of an elaborate strategic investment plan to expeditiously promote the production and export to just one or two commodities," said Dr Okoboi.



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