Wednesday, January 15, 2014


With four in every five Ugandans deriving a living from agriculture and with a population doubling every 20 years, it does not take any economic modelling to work out that more food is going to be needed to feed our population.

"As it is now we are still a net exporter of food, a situation that may not continue considering the dwindling productivity of our farms. The incentive to boost farm productivity, essentially raise farm output per unit input, is urgent if only to ensure food security into the future...

It’s as clear as night and day. What we are failing to execute is a sustainable strategy for raising our farm productivity.

A major error of course is that the message is that it’s the farmer’s problem, but anecdotes abound that the whole value chain – production, distribution, marketing, research and finance, needs to be looked into.

My friend once had a farm with a herd of about 1000 pigs, but he was forced to shut down because it never turned a profit and for lack of official support.

At the time the demand for pork ribs was insatiable but that only accounted for a quarter of the carcass, how to dispose of the rest of the meat was always a hustle. So he got it into his head to get into processing but his herd could not provide enough volume to make a proposed plant viable.   

Inquiries at one of our university’s vet departments on how he could increase the productivity of his herd came up with nothing because he found they had hands on knowledge on animal disease but little practical knowledge on how to increase yields in our local environment.

So he did what a prudent businessman would do, he shut down the operation instead of hang on to it out of some misplaced need to say to his friends in the bar,  “I have a farm.”

The same challenges can be found in trying to increase productivity of any agricultural endeavour – crop or animal, in this country.

There have been some successful agricultural enterprises, the sugar and tea plantations leap to mind, tobacco has provided a viable model too as have the coffee cooperatives and more recently the efforts of Good African Coffee in organising farmers to supply coffee for export. There is also the work Mukwano Industries is doing with farmers in the northern Uganda. So too the breweries with the sorghum and barley farmers in eastern Uganda.

The success of these endeavours revolve around improved farming practices – from the sowing to harvesting stage, better post-harvest handling – where up to half the crop can be lost and a ready market for the produce at competitive prices – we have the dismantling of the government produce marketing boards to thank for this last one.

And while we may think we are clever ignoring agriculture because we want to be an industrial nation the story of Denmark can serve as an eye opener.

"The Nordic country’s food exports amounted to €16b (sh56b) in 2011 – or about the total GDP of Uganda,  a fourfold increase from a decade ago. But the country in which pigs out number humans by five-to-one is not a rural backwater on the roof of the European Union. In fact due to the size of its agricultural sector it has spawned agro-processing industries, ICT, finance, research and numerous other agriculture supporting companies...

The moral of the story is that increasing farm productivity is not the problem of the farmer alone. We need to look at the entire value chain, from field to table, in order to come to grips with the challenge of not only future threats to food insecurity but to sustainably tackle the challenge of low rural incomes and poverty.

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