Wednesday January 8 2014

Some opportunities and challenges in 2014

By Andrew Ndawula Kalema

1. Feeding the neighbours
Tens of thousands of Ugandans, who have been working in South Sudan, have abandoned their businesses and returned home to escape the ongoing heavy fighting between government forces and the rebels. The fighting has also forced tens of thousands of South Sudanese to abandon their homes and farms and flee into camps.
Even if the fighting stops tomorrow, it will take years for the young nation to recover. Meanwhile people have to feed. Instead of lamenting over lost business, Ugandans who have been affected by this war should grab the opportunity to feed South Sudan. But you need to be strategic.
Do not expect Ugandan and South Sudanese traders to come to your farm to buy pineapples, water melon and cattle to transport to Juba. Instead, it is humanitarian agencies that will come looking for maize and beans to feed the displaced people.
Farmers in northern Uganda, whose land is extremely productive following decades of forced fallow, can, take advantage of the situation to make money.

2. Chicken, fruits, snacks
For poultry, the booming cross-border trade in agriculture produce between Uganda and DR Congo, which had been interrupted by the fighting in eastern DR Congo will resume. This is a big opportunity for poultry farmers to export eggs and chicken.
On the local market, there is a big opportunity to supply raw material to the rapidly growing agro processing industry. A number of private companies have come up to process locally produced fruits, vegetables, spices and cereals into different products. For instance, there are several companies processing tomatoes into tomato ketchup.
Instead of looking for poor paying jobs, many food science and technology graduates from Makerere and other institutions of higher education have decided to use their skills and knowledge in food processing.
Many of them have gone into the lucrative snack industry, transforming highly perishable traditional foods such as bananas into longer lasting, palatable, portable and, generally, trendy snacks.
This is a win – win situation. The youth get jobs, the farmers get a market for their produce.

3. ICT
You cannot talk about modernising agriculture, without mentioning ICT. Half of what I know about farming, I learnt from the school of hard knocks.
The rest I learnt from the internet. Whatever you missed at school, you can still learn from the internet. It is a fallow field ready for cultivation. Unfortunately, farmers in Uganda are yet to harness this wonderful resource. Our Kenyan neighbours are far ahead with their i-Cow platform for dairy farmers.
The internet has a key role to play in the efforts to modernise agriculture. It is an opportunity for farmers.
Already there is a farmers’ call centre in Uganda, where farmers can access agriculture information via their mobile phones. But very few are aware of its existence.
ICT can help solve the problem of lack of access to information about new technologies such as greenhouse farming, hydroponics and tissue culture.
Forget those lame excuses of lack of internet access. If you can monitor the English Premier League via your mobile phone, then you can also monitor the price of maize and beans on the market. It is a question of priority.
Just visit a sports betting place in any urban centre around the country. You will find youth struggling to buy information sheets for the latest betting tips. You hardly find any buying a newspaper to read the farming section.
If you are to survive in the New Year, you will need to decide early whether you are a farmer or a gambler, and then put your money where your mouth is.

4. Tourism
Uganda continues to be one of the world’s top destinations for tourists while Uganda’s economy also continues to be agro based.
Agri-tourism happens to be the fastest growing sector in the global tourism industry. Does anyone spot an opportunity there?
Instead of constructing a huge country home, consider a guest house or several cottages on your farm. Agri tourism can be promoted alongside cultural and other forms of tourism.
And the following are some of the challenges

5. Labour shortage
This has been blamed on rural-urban migration, especially among the youth. Instead of wasting time and money on campaigns to “lure” the youth back to the land, effort should instead be put on developing rural areas.
The youth will eventually see sense and stop selling off their ancestral land to buy boda bodas.

6. Mechanisation
Meanwhile, the way forward is mechanisation. Here I’m not talking about combine harvesters, but simple labour-saving machines, like motorised sprayers and hand-held mowers. You need one or two workers with a motorised sprayer to spray several hundred fruit trees.

7. Spiralling crime rate
This is a global problem, facilitated by cheap communication gadgets such as mobile phones and a under-facilitated law enforcers.
Since there is no simple solution in the foreseeable future, farmers have to, individually or as communities, put in place security systems to safeguard their property.

8. Politicising of GMOs
I hate lamenting over government’s failure to fulfill its responsibilities. But allow me to do it for once.
It is disappointing that the ministry of agriculture is yet to come up with a comprehensive programme to enlighten Ugandans, particularly farmers about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

There is an ongoing debate in Parliament over GMOs that the ordinary person on the street is not even aware of.
So far, the task has been left in the hands of “volunteers” and individual politicians who, depending on which side their bread is buttered, have come out to support or decampaign GMOs.
Their disjointed efforts have left the ordinary farmer confused and vulnerable to manipulation. There is an urgent need to demystify GMOs, so farmers and consumers can make informed decisions.