Why agricultural diversification is vital for our rural transformation
Posted Monday, February 11 2013 at 02:00
The government needs to set up agricultural information centres, make information available to rural farmers and provide the supportive agro-processing, market and communications facilities.
Diversification of agriculture refers to the shift from the regional dominance of one crop to regional production of a number of crops to meet ever increasing demand for both cash crop and food production. It takes into account the economic returns from different value-added crops with complementary marketing opportunities.
A diversified portfolio of products ensures that farmers don’t suffer complete ruin when the weather is unpredictable. It manages price risk, on the assumption that not all products will suffer low prices at the same time. Unfortunately, most farmers often do the opposite of diversification by planting products that have a high price in one year, only to see the price collapse in the next.
Diversification in agriculture is key in achieving food security, improved human nutrition and increase in rural employment. Without diversification, farmers who are dependent on exports run a number of risks. A classic example is the Caribbean banana industry, which collapsed as a result of the removal of quota protection on EU markets, necessitating diversification by the region’s farmers.
Farmers in several countries, including, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, etc., have already initiated diversification as a response to climate change. For instance, government policy in Kenya to promote crop diversification has included the removal of subsidies for some crops, encouraging land-use zoning and introducing differential land tax systems.
The rate at which Uganda’s soil is losing fertility, with crops drying up, calls for urgent government intervention. For instance, a recent study by International Center for Tropical Agriculture (2011) revealed that climatic suitability of most of Uganda’s crops like tea will decline significantly and tea production is predicted to disappear almost completely due to poor agronomic practices. It is predicted that some areas will even become unsuitable for tea, especially in western Uganda and farmers will need to identify alternative crops.
Many farmers lack access to such vital information. I appeal to the government to start addressing key issues that have direct impact on the citizens, such as the banana wilt and coffee wilt diseases ravaging plantations in Ankole region. The government needs to set up agricultural information centres, make information available to rural farmers and provide the supportive agro-processing, market and communications facilities. There is a need for government to equip and facilitate scientists to embark on serious research, assess soil condition, and advise farmers on the right direction. Extension coordinators need to educate farmers about the values of agricultural diversification.
I believe if this government had transformed the agricultural sector in their 27-year rule, Uganda would be a first world country by now.
Mr Katsigaire works with a tea plantation company. firstname.lastname@example.org