Tuesday May 6 2014

Support small scale farmers to boost food security

By Eric Nelson Haumba

It is estimated that once Uganda’s population hits 101 million in 2050, the country will have to import tons of food annually. During this stage, the annual demand for food will have increased significantly, while the population might remain dominated by the youth. Without doubt, that will mark the worst period when people might have to move around with begging bowls to ensure food supply for survival.

In a country like Uganda, depending on others even for food instead of essential commodities like natural gas, heavy engineering materials, and computer technologies, means there will hardly be anything left in the country to export and settle the import bills. Without earning any foreign exchange, how can we import food to feed our population? We cannot entirely depend on the oil discovery because we don’t know how much gain we are likely to get from it and for how long.

Our only hope is that 36 years from now is a long period and there is some optimism, if we wish to take some positive steps to prevent the crisis.

The salient need is to deal with the problems faced by the small farmers by 2050, when the population will have reached 101 million, tripling the annual demand for food. To cope with the increasing food demand, we need to enhance the agricultural production by hugely sustaining small scale farmers

The capability of small farmers to manage their own farms will greatly influence the crop yields. While the rich and elite farmers have been able to adapt improved agronomic practices to earn good returns, poor and uneducated farmers who receive incomplete information or cannot raise money on time to procure critical inputs generally end up with lower crop yields and huge losses.

Hence the strategy to enhance food production should address the problems of such underrated farmers, who represent over 75 per cent of the total producers in the country.

They own small pieces of land per family and practice low-external input farming and the crop yields are substantially low. Although their contribution to the national food production is regarded trivial, the reality is, it meets a significant part of their needs.

Therefore, participation of small farmers in food production is essential to achieve food security in this country. Most of them being illiterate and having failed earlier either in adapting new technologies or under-achieving from the phony Naads programme provided by the government, they have lost confidence both in themselves and the extension agencies.

They need support not only to procure inputs but also to gain confidence. Initially, they should be exposed to various technologies and opportunities to improve the production and then implored to adapt improved practices gradually in several stages, without taking any risk to invest in expensive external inputs.
Although such a strategy will take a long time for small holders to increase their crop yields at par with the elite practicing improved agriculture, it will help them to sustain their requirements. Thus most of the poor will afford to meet their needs despite the low income and escape starvation.
Simultaneously, the large scale farmers can be encouraged to make necessary investments on external inputs with sound technological support to maximise the production.

As the backward farmers generally follow the progressive and rich farmers, in this process of capacity building, both rich and poor can contribute their best to increase the food production in this country and by 2050, we shall have successfully evaded the food crisis that is looming.

Mr Haumba works with YMCA, Kampala.