Wednesday June 18 2014

We have got to spend more on our agriculture

By Michael J. Ssali

For a long time, our government has struggled to reduce poverty by introducing a number of interventions, including Rural Farmers’ Scheme, Entandikwa, Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA), Naads, Bonna bagaggawale, among others.
However, poverty persists and we are about to see Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF) promoting agriculture by distributing free seeds to farmers as another approach.
Clearly, the job of agricultural extension workers (kagirikacha) has been downtrodden and District Farm Institutes, where farmers were taught through practical demonstrations, have been more or less phased out.
Without saying so, government appears to admit that nearly three decades of struggle have achieved nothing.
Meanwhile, our population doubled from about 16 million in 1986 to about 32.9 million in 2011. Our soils are exhausted, and our water resources depleted. With the onset of climate change and a host of new crop diseases, the challenges facing farming are bigger.

Other worries
Today, coffee farmers are more worried about coffee wilt disease and coffee twig borer, which together have reduced yields by more than 50 per cent, than getting free plantlets. Teach them how to protect the little that remains instead of giving them more.
Banana is facing extinction by the bacterial wilt disease and the farmer’s main concern is more on how to overcome the problem than getting new plantlets. We have cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak diseases, which have significantly reduced yields. The Ugandan farmer today needs to adopt what Food and Agriculture Organisation referred to as “climate-smart agriculture” in its report, early this month.
But how sure are we that UPDF veterans will deliver the needed agricultural technical advisory services to turn things round when they have never been known for exemplary farming?
Our agricultural research stations are underfunded and understaffed. The farmers have no access to fertilisers and irrigation. Is the government spending enough on agriculture?
We seem to have tried everything else apart from devoting at least 10 per cent of our national budget to agriculture as per the 2003 Maputo Declaration to which Uganda is a signatory.