• Authored By: Naome Otiti
16 Dec 2023

Gender gaps in the agricultural value chains of cash crops are a well-known problem in Uganda. Despite women consisting of a large proportion of agricultural labour[i], they tend to remain at the less productive stages of agricultural value chains.[ii]

The involvement of women is crucial to the achievement of the objectives of the Agro-Industrialisation programme thus, contributing to poverty alleviation and promoting economic development.  To promote agro-industrialisation in Uganda, the National Development Plan III recommends increased focus on cash crops such as coffee, tea, cocoa and cotton. Nevertheless, women continue to face barriers that hinder their involvement at the productive stages of these agricultural value chains[iii].

Evidence from traditional cash crops like coffee show that women are less likely to participate in the processing and marketing of proceeds relative to the men – they are active in the cultivation, harvesting and post-harvest stages[iv]. One major reason for this gap lies in the influence of social norms and beliefs which dictate gender roles in the agricultural value chains.

In line with this, financial decision making that is often relegated to men renders women less likely to participate at the marketing and sales stages of cash crops. Similar arguments can also be found from other traditional cash crops like cotton.

With that backdrop, a question can be raised as to whether the introduction and production of new agricultural commodities such as silk from silkworms can facilitate women’s involvement in all stages including the productive stages of the agricultural value chain and contribute to agro-industrialisation in Uganda.

The rearing of silkworms for silk, also known as sericulture, involves various activities from the production to final stage such as growing mulberry leaves (to feed the silkworms), rearing the silkworms, removing yarn from the cocoons to get silk, and selling the silk[v].The diversity of activities in the sericulture value chain creates immense opportunities for small- and large-scale farmers. Of interest is the fact that the multiplicity of these activities does not require a lot of physical effort and could be considered women-friendly. In fact, evidence from India -one of the leading producers of silk- shows that women can participate at most of the stages of the sericulture value chain[vi].

In Uganda, a report by researchers at Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI) highlights the suitability of silk farming for various vulnerable groups including women and the youth[vii]. Moreover, it could also be argued that since sericulture is an emerging sector in Uganda, women are less likely to be subjected to preconceived gender norms relative to other traditional products. This highlights its conduciveness to women and emphasises the potential for sericulture to contribute to closing gender gaps in the cash crop agriculture value chains in the country.

Harvested silkworm cocoons at Rabaare National Sericulture Resources Centre, Uganda. Photo/Africa Weekly

According to the National Textile Policy 2009, silk production is expected to have benefits for the economy as a valuable export commodity. As of 2020, the value of Uganda’s silk exports amounted to USD 44,000 with Tanzania being the major export destination[viii]. Although China and India are reported as the largest suppliers of silk[ix], there remains a high demand for silk on the global market. This is an opportunity that Uganda can leverage due to its favourable climate for growing mulberry, abundant labour force, land and research and innovation capability in sericulture. Furthermore, more involvement of Uganda in sericulture is timely owing to the ongoing economic situation in the country that is, the decline in international funding, and as a result, a move towards promoting more domestic resource mobilisation efforts as well as transformation from subsistence to commercial farming. Additionally, the possibility for silkworm rearing to create employment opportunities for women and the youth cannot be overlooked.

The potential benefits of sericulture in Uganda have long been acknowledged and inspired the introduction of sericulture in as early as the 1970s as a potential conduit towards economic development. Indeed, today various technical and research and development support is being provided in some parts of the country to facilitate sericulture development by the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MoSTI) under State House as well as other non-state actors.

Despite such efforts, the promise of sericulture remains unfulfilled in Uganda. There are several reasons for this such as insufficient information and training on silk farming, limited collaboration between state and non-state actors involved in sericulture, inadequate access to inputs and lack of an institutional framework concerned with sericulture. Among these, a key issue seems to lie in the lack of supporting policy (institutional framework) in place to develop the sector in Uganda.

Currently, sericulture in Uganda seems to rely on already existing policies to guide its activities for instance, the National Industrial Policy Framework 2008 and the National Textile Policy 2009. Although one cannot discount their informativeness, developing clear institutional guidelines specific to sericulture could mitigate existing bottlenecks. Specifically, it could help guide the production, processing, and marketing of silk, facilitating Uganda’s access to premium silk markets. It could also help regulate the activities of farmers and other private actors involved in sericulture. Additionally, a sericulture development policy could facilitate the formulation of guidelines on the provision of sericulture development services, gender mainstreaming and financial support across different regions of the country.

In sum, it is therefore important for MAAIF and MoSTI in collaboration with other important stakeholders to fast track the formulation of a sericulture development policy. This may well be the pathway to ensuring its significant growth in Uganda, contributing to closing gender gaps in agriculture value chains and promoting agro-industrialisation.

 

[i] Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (2017). State of Uganda Population Report 2017. Transforming Uganda’s Economy: Opportunities to Harness the Demographic Dividend for Sustainable Development.

[ii] EPRC (2023). Enhancing Agro-Industry for Productive and Decent work for Youth and Women in Uganda: The Case for Fish and Cotton Value Chains.

[iii] FAO (2018). National Gender Profile of Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods, Kampala

[iv] Farm Africa (n.d.). Gender and the Coffee Value Chain in Kanungu, Uganda. Retrieved on December 11th, 2023, https://www.farmafrica.org/downloads/2020/coffee-report-latest-26.09-v5-final-(spread).pdf

[v] JAICAF (2007). Sericulture in East Africa. Retrieved on December 12th, 2023, http://jaicaf.or.jp/publications/report-2007_1_e.pdf

[vi] Bhat, T. A. (2014). An analysis of public private partnership in sericulture in Jammu and Kashmir state (India). Journal of Economics and Sustainable Development, 5(11), 121-126.

[vii] Ssemugenze, B., Esimu, J., Nagasha, J., & Wandui Masiga, C. (2021). Sericulture: Agro-based industry for sustainable socio-economic development: A review. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 11(9), 474-482

[viii] TrendEconomy (2023). Where does Uganda export Silk? Retrieved on December 15th, 2023, https://trendeconomy.com/data/h2/Uganda/50  

[ix] International Sericulture Commission (n.d.). Retrieved on December 12th, 2023, https://inserco.org/en/statistics

 

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