We can’t let Uganda land go to large-scale farmers

With no education and skills to get Ugandans out of agriculture where some 90 percent earn their livelihood, land is the only asset and source of livelihood. Land is therefore a national security issue that cannot be traded for anything else. The British understood this and left Uganda land alone. A law was passed to keep land in Ugandans hands except for a few leases. So when Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced upon return from a foreign mission that peasants were going to be displaced and their land go to large-scale farmers, Ugandans were shocked, wondering how the decision had come about and where they would go or how they would earn their livelihood. Since then land has taken on special attention in debates. We would like the prime minister to tell the nation where his idea of displacing peasants came from.

Meanwhile, some Ugandans have conducted investigations. It appears that NRM government wants to join other African countries that are selling or leasing land for long periods to large scale farmers mostly foreigners as there aren’t many indigenous Uganda large-scale farmers. “Land grabbing” in Africa is a new concept that has become an international phenomenon. The concept refers to “the purchase or lease of vast tracts of land by wealthier, food-insecure nations and private investors mostly from poor developing countries in order to produce food for export”. Uganda is already a major exporter of food grown by peasants, with little left for their families.

Africa has been targeted for land grabbing because some 90 percent of the world’s arable land is already in use. Africa still has some unutilized arable land. The need for bio-fuels and to increase foodstuffs for rising demand has increased competition for land. Some African countries have already sold or leased land to wealthy investors. Ethiopia, a hungry country with millions in need of food, has paradoxically been leader in selling its fertile land to rich countries and wealthy individuals to grow food for export to feed their own populations.

Land grabbing has adversely impacted Africans’ human rights in part because land deals are made by senior government officials with no or little consultation with local land owners. “And in many cases, land that officials have said was ‘unused’ [is] actually managed by local peasants in traditional ways to provide food and water for their communities.

“… large- scale industrial agriculture not only throws people off their land but also requires chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, intensive water use and large-scale transport, storage and distribution, which together turns landscapes into enormous monocultural plantations. ‘We are seeing dispossession on a massive scale. It means less food is available and local people will have less. There will be more conflict and political instability and cultures will be uprooted. The small farmers of Africa are the basis of food security’”(Mickey Huff and Peter Phillips Censored 2011, 2010).

In a report published by the 64th annual UN DPI/NGO Conference (September 2011) shows that 80 percent of the food still comes from small farms which are more productive than large-scale farms. The Group of 8 most industrialized countries as well as the United Nations support small scale farmers. “The International Institute for Sustainable Development and the World Bank have backed reports showing that ‘the most reasonable and most appropriate way to invest in food systems is to invest in small farmers’”(Huff and Phillips 2010). Uganda is already being used to test GMOs. Contrary to popular belief, large-scale farms don’t create but drastically reduce jobs as machines in all stages of the agricultural chain replace workers.

As the UNDPI/NGO report observed “The challenge therefore is to defend small farms and promote ecological agriculture not as luxuries, but as imperatives for both sustainability and poverty reduction … while countering false contentions that industrial agriculture can feed the world”.

I have done work on small holder farming, green and gene revolutions posted at www.kashambuzi.com.

UDU appeals to all Ugandans, friends and well wishers at home and abroad to come together like we did when the government wanted to sell Mabira forest to a developer and stopped it. Land in Uganda is the only asset for most people have and only source of livelihood for them. We can develop our land in concert with others in some cases but we can’t afford to sell or lease it for long periods as that decision would mean dispossession.

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