Recently, the Ministry of Water and Environment released the rainfall forecast bulletin for the growing season, adding that normal rains will start in March to May and above normal some parts of the country. The ministry went on to caution farmers, irrespective of scale, to take advantage of the expected rains to prepare fields promptly.
What tEnvironment State minister Flavia Munaba did not clarify is the linkage of the alert warnings to the type of crops to grow in the different agro-ecological zones; she should have been flanked by Agriculture ministers to provide guidance as the message was directed at farmers. The minister’s alert falls into the trap of what elementary economics terms as the “cobweb” where a key assumption is that farmers never learn from previous season’s harsh experiences of poor earnings even where there is a bumper harvest.
Authored by Hungarian-born economist - Nicholas Kaldor (1908-1986) – the cobweb theory stems from a simple dynamic model of cyclical demand which involves time lags between the response of production and a change in price. The model is most applicable to the cyclical phenomenon most often observed in Uganda’s agricultural sub-sectors, every other season. Cobweb theory explains the process of adjustment in markets by tracing the path of prices and outputs in different equilibrium situations.
The minister’s alert and the forgetfulness of farmers from previous seasons’ farm gate prices of harvests all point to the fact that farmers will need a lot of support through guidance, to ensure they grow what provides a win for them.
Taking the case of West Nile region, in the last two cotton seasons, the farmers have suffered colossal losses from their cotton crop harvests. In 2012, cotton farm gate price ranged from Shs800 and peaked at Shs1,000 per Kg and in 2013, the price hovered around Shs1,000 to Shs1,100 a Kg.
One can only wonder what “marriage” relationship the farmers have cemented with the colonial crop when an edible simsim crop fetches more than twice the cotton price; moreover farmers can improve their household food security as some of the simsim can be held back for home consumption, something the cotton crop does not offer!
According to national archives, Borup, an industrial missionary, introduced cotton in 1903 when he distributed 62 bags of cotton seeds for planting. The crop, since then has been historically grown in the lower parts of Rwenzori, Bukedi, Lango and Acholi and West Nile regions.
In the case of West Nile, in an effort to promote value addition, the post-colonial administration invested in cotton ginneries at Pakwach and Rhino Camp and more recently, private sector investment witnessed yet another cotton ginnery at Parombo growth centre. At every harvest season, the cotton farmers lament at the investments they put toward their cotton crop and always incur losses. What the rainy season alert should do, is to go an extra mile in guiding farmers in what to grow in the seasons guided by the agricultural zoning and rainfall patterns.
Linking early warning bulletins, with growing higher value crops probably could make a difference in the lives of poor farmers who are historically trapped in growing colonial crops such as cotton.
Dr Odoch is a development consultant.