Comments on Uganda’s National Agricultural Policy

Dear Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho

I have read the final draft dated December 31, 2011 prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. You sent this document to me among others for comment through Ugandans at Heart Forum. I will make comments of a general nature at this stage. At a later stage I will make comments paragraph by paragraph. Let me start with the good news.

First, there is a wealth of information on this sector prepared since NRM came to power in 1986. The information is contained among other documents in publications by the World Bank; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO); Modernization of agriculture; Jossy Bibangambah; Eric Kashambuzi; and UDU’s National Recovery Plan (NRP) which was transmitted to the government through the ministry of Foreign affairs and numerous articles including one by Kashambuzi which was published in the New Vision in August 2011. These publications have adequately identified successes, challenges, processes and expected outcomes.

Second, the international community including the World Bank, G8 and G20 and the United Nations General Assembly has recognized the critical role of agriculture and rural development in economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction and is ready to increase funding in the sector. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) identified agriculture as an important sector in poverty and hunger reduction and support has been extended to Uganda through inter alia the Millennium Village Program.

Third, African Union and NEPAD have emphasized the role of agriculture in development, recommending 6 percent annual growth rate and allocating at least 10 percent of national budget to the sector. It also recommended that part of the food should be used to provide school lunch.

Fourth, it has been definitively concluded that when properly facilitated small holder farmers are more productive, efficient, environmentally and socially friendly than large scale farmers. Thus, there is sufficient political will at the international level to support small holder farmer as an agent of agricultural transformation, job creation, hunger and poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Below are general remarks relevant to agricultural development.

First, the document has rightly identified agriculture as the primary sector in Uganda’s economic growth, job creation, industrialization, food and nutrition security, foreign exchange earner and poverty reduction. In spite of this undisputed role the sector has performed far below its potential to the extent that population is growing faster than food production, meaning that Ugandans are not eating enough. Add on the amount of food being exported and you get an idea about the seriousness of food and nutrition insecurity especially among women and children.

Second, the document has also rightly pointed out the linkages inter alia among agriculture, education and healthcare. Illiterate and sick people produce very little. Thus education and health care should be integral parts in agricultural policy, strategy and program design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. In this regard the coordination role of the office of prime minister is significant. However, the office of the president should remain the prime mover of agricultural development in Uganda.

Third, the major constraint has been identified to be at the implementation level, pointing out serious technical, financial and coordination deficits among ministries and between the center and districts. This is essentially a political will problem. NRM has tended to focus on other areas including the service sector with a concentration on the nation’s capital city of Kampala that generates some 70 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) with less than two million people out of a total of 33 million. Budget allocation of less than five percent has remained far below the AU recommendation of 10 percent. Inefficiency in resource utilization within the ministry has also been pointed out as a major deterrent.

Fourth, the issue of land tenure or ownership needs to be clarified to remove existing ambiguities that constrain investment in agriculture. Who exactly owns land or who has sovereignty over allocation of Uganda land to various users in rural and urban areas? It may be written somewhere but the public is still in the dark.

Fifth, as a rule Uganda land should be used in the first instance to produce food for domestic consumption, the surplus of which should be exported to regional and international markets. The policy of production for cash and not for the stomach has seriously undermined this rule with serious food and nutrition security repercussions especially among pregnant women that are producing underweight children with permanent disabilities, hardship on lactating mothers and smaller than normal brain formation among children. Failure to support school lunches has contributed significantly to the high rate of school dropout and adverse side effects such as teenage pregnancy or early marriage and rapid population growth.

Sixth, since the bulk of Ugandans are small holder farmers and land is their only basic asset and source of livelihood, government should ensure that they retain their land and are facilitated to improve productivity and consolidate small scattered plots. Education and employment outside agriculture will assist in this land consolidation effort. Sensitization should also be an integral part of it. Large scale agriculture should not disadvantage small holder farmers. Instead, the two should work in a mutually reinforcing manner.

Seventh, although not included in the policy document, there should be a balance in the development of urban and rural areas. The current focus on urban development especially of Kampala city has resulted in urban population growth rate in excess of national population growth. The current rural-urban migration has disadvantages both areas. Rural areas have lost economically active labor force that has drifted into towns where it cannot find work with unemployment and underemployment the result.

Eighth, there is a contradiction in the statements that Uganda has plenty of agricultural land and at the same time that rapid population growth has led to serious land shortages and conflicts. This contradiction needs to be corrected before the document is approved.

Ninth, for planning purposes in agriculture and other sectors disaggregated information is necessary. What are the relative contributions of natural population growth (births over deaths) and migrants to overall Uganda’s population growth? We also need information about areas that have high population and low population densities and areas that have high and low growth rates. The 2010 report on the State of Uganda Population omitted some of this crucial information.

Tenth, infrastructure for agriculture and rural development is of tremendous importance. I have travelled widely in western Uganda and my impression is that the major constraint in road construction and maintenance is bridges. When a bridge collapses the road becomes unusable. Building a new one takes a long time because bridges are expensive beyond local government means. To overcome this constraint central government alone or in collaboration with local government should assume responsibility for bridge construction and maintenance if not done already, leaving the local government to do the rest. On energy, it is important to provide affordable sources. The current supply of electricity is unaffordable by peasants in rural areas and many non-agricultural enterprises in towns. Alternative sources of energy need to be explored. UNDP has done some good work on alternative sources of energy in Nepal. Uganda may wish to avail itself of this experience.

Eleventh, the government needs to make agriculture and rural development attractive through various incentives. Ugandans see farming as an occupation for failures elsewhere. Educating Ugandans about the significance of agriculture as a source of good income should be undertaken very early in the child’s life using successful small and medium farmers as demonstrations.

Twelfth, decentralization of agricultural activities to districts needs to be revisited in view of limited human and financial capacities at the district level.

Thirteenth, skills constraints could be eased by inviting Ugandans in the diaspora back. An incentive scheme needs to be developed for this purpose which would also serve to reduce brain drain. NRM’s winner-take-all ideology has deprived Uganda of capable professionals locked up in exile or marginalized at home. For the sake of overcoming skill shortages in agriculture and other sectors this ideology needs to be dropped because Uganda belongs to all of us regardless of party affiliation.

Fourteenth, because the forestry sector is outside the ministry of agriculture it has been omitted from the document. It has to be considered as an integral part of agricultural development. Agricultural expansion through land clearance of vegetation which is a common practice in Uganda will encroach on forests and wetlands. The controversial clearance of part of Mabira forest to grow sugar cane is a good example of the relationship between agriculture and forestry. Wetland clearance has also adversely affected the fishing sector among others.

Fifteenth, participation of all relevant stakeholders in designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluation of agricultural programs should be encouraged especially small holder farmers, micro, small and medium sized enterprises to ensure ownership and sustainability. Research and extension services should be demand, not supply driven.

Sixteenth, professionals who design agricultural policies, strategies and programs should participate in all stages of implementation to ensure continuity.

Finally, success or failure in Uganda’s agricultural and rural development will depend on the political will of the government at the central and district levels. Agriculture needs to be given full political support. Hopefully attention to the oil sector will not sideline the agriculture sector even further.

Eric Kashambuzi

March 2012.

Cc: Ugandans at Heart Forum

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