Thursday July 2 2015

Beyond politicking, what do political parties’ manifestos read for farmers?

By Stuart Oramire

The electioneering period is edging closer with fervent public excitement. Worth noting is that this excitement even precedes the candidates’ yet-to-be disclosed planned course of action. The public seems to have already drawn the lines even before candidates that have thus far shown interest to contest for the highest political office draw up their political agendas. In developed democracies, this is what informs the electorate’s choice of leaders.

In Uganda today, the agriculture sector, for example, with its massive transformative potential, is perennially underfunded. Trends in budget allocation already indicate that the sector continues to get less attention from planners at the technocratic and policy levels. Agriculture receives less than 4 per cent of the entire national budget yet 66 per cent of Ugandans derive their livelihood from the sector, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS 2012) statistical abstract.

The sector’s strategic importance for its forward and backward linkages to other industries, particularly the manufacturing industry, need not be emphasised. Yet the agricultural policy that would comprehensively guide strategies to direct the sector, until a month or so ago, remained in draft in the shelves of the Ministry of Agriculture for more than 10 years now.
Poor investment in agriculture means the sector’s growth rate remains below 5 per cent. With Uganda’s population growing at an astronomical rate of 3.24 per cent, according to the UBOS 2014 estimates, agriculture as the dominant socio-economic sector cannot be the transformative tool to improve the livelihood of over 66 per cent of Ugandans that derive their livelihood from the sector.

It is, therefore, not surprising that millions of small holder farmers wallow in poverty despite government’s piecemeal interventions with programmes such as Entandikwa, Boona bagagawale, Naads and now Operation Wealth Creation. The common denominator of all these programmes is the political timing and the related expediency. This is because they are crafted in haste to serve certain objectives but are devoid of a long-term strategy that would help achieve the ultimate goal of transforming farmers from abject poverty.
Here is an example. In 2014, at the height of public consultations on the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 commonly known as the GMO Bill, Agency for Transformation wrote to all Members of Parliament. We even appeared before the Committee on Science and Technology to make our case against the introduction of GMOs in Uganda. Our campaign was premised on three factors. One, that Uganda’s competitiveness as a food basket of organic food in the region would be hamstrung.

Two, farmers would have to rely on patented inputs such as imported seeds and this would affect the cost and supply of inputs and subject farmers to the whims of patent rights owners. Three, there is a gap in the draft law, especially on regulation and labelling of GMOs in the market.
Despite the ramifications of this law, only a small portion of MPs consulted both their constituents and parties. Consequently, most farmers have remained ignorant of both this Bill and the GMOs. Yet, Parliament is now in advanced stages of passing the GMO Bill, specifically to promote Genetically Modified Organisms in Uganda. There is no single political party in Uganda with a harmonised position on this contentious Bill, yet its passing will have great impact on the farmers.

Farmers must go beyond the popular electioneering slogans of good governance, democracy, and begin asking more questions. Questions like why the government has reneged on its obligation to the Maputo Declaration of allocating 10 per cent to the sector; why should the agricultural policy that would be the guiding document on government’s interventions in this important sector take more than a decade to be completed?

Farmers must ask all political candidates - independent or party-sponsored- what package they have for them in terms of alternative policy proposals and policy reforms. Farmers must ask questions such as how a smallholder farmer grappling with the challenges of high costs of inputs, post-harvest losses, land grabbing and a commercial farmer deep in rural Uganda who cannot access markets due to impassable roads, among other challenges, can be supported. This support should not be for political expediency but should be an outcome of a well thought-out policy process with concrete action plans that can be aligned to other programmes such as the National Development Plan and Vision 2040.

Mr Oramire is a Research Fellow at Agency for Transformation.