Wednesday June 11 2014

Effect of population growth on agriculture

By Michael J. Ssali

The New African published an article last month titled “Does Uganda really need GMOs?” In its first paragraph, a woman was quoted as saying: “... we have large extended families to feed. I am a very fertile woman. Would I have produced twins if I ate GMOs?” She was a participant in a demonstration against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) unaware, of course, that GM technology is among the prioritised approaches to overcoming the food issues related to the impending population explosion.

Last Thursday was World Environment Day and in Uganda it was marked in Kaliro District.

The statement by Ms Ahhuna Eziakonwa-Onochie, UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda, published in Daily Monitor, indicated that Kaliro, which depends on farming and fishing, has lost most of its forest reserves and is host to crop pests and invasive weeds. She also observed that the district lies in a dry area with annual rainfall of between 300-700mm. The most worrying, otherwise interesting, statement was the fact that Uganda currently loses 92,000 hectares of forest annually. Forest loss leads to reduced rainfall, yet our agriculture is rain-fed.

Another article in the same newspaper blamed Uganda’s degraded environment on the high fertility rate, now at 6.7 children per woman. Referring to data from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), she said that the population has more than tripled in the past 40 years from 9.5 million in 1969 to 32.9 million in 2011.

It went on to list the consequences of the high fertility rate as soil erosion, declining soil fertility, pollution of water resources, loss of biodiversity, depletion of fish stocks, land fragmentation, and shrinking per capita of arable land. In its May 2014 report, the Washington DC-based Population Reference Bureau points out that family planning can help ensure good nutrition for children.

Necessity knows no law and no matter how strictly the forests and wetlands are guarded, as President Museveni said in his State of the Nation address, people will invade them for settlement and exploitation due to lack of alternative space and means of survival.

The government must come up with strong and clear population control measures in order to protect the environment and improve agricultural production.