Wednesday February 19 2014

Strengthen agro-processing

President Museveni early this week commissioned a Shs700m tomato processing plant in Kapeeka Sub-county, Nakaseke District. The plant is said to be a culmination of efforts of farmers, foreign investors and the President’s brother (Gen Caleb Akandwanaho) who donated 100 acres of land for the agro-processing initiative.

Agriculture is and has always been Uganda’s undisputed comparative advantage. As a major growth sector of the Ugandan economy, agriculture accounts for approximately 23 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and represents close to 50 per cent of the country’s exports. In fact, Uganda’s 5-year National Development Plan (NDP) (2010-2015) considers the agricultural sector as the lead determinant in efforts to get millions of Ugandans out of poverty by 2040.

Even with its significance to the Ugandan economy, the agriculture sector performance has not been impressive, with its growth rate falling way short of the NDP annual growth target of 5.6 per cent and the 5.9 per cent required for effective poverty reduction. During the 2012/13 financial year, agriculture grew by a miserable 1.4 per cent. This is largely attributed to the inadequate attention the government has accorded the sector.

In fact, Uganda’s oil discoveries will not take away the key role agriculture plays in the country’s economic growth. Unfortunately, as a country, we have taken long to fully appreciate the value of investing heavily in agriculture.

Speaking at the commissioning of the plant, President Museveni noted that “Ugandans are waking up from a long slumber by embracing industrialisation and value addition.” The President might be right but it helps to note that his government has played a role in allowing this situation to thrive. There is a lot that government could have done and can do to unlock the immense potential that agro-processing holds. The multiplier effect of the sector should be taken advantage of.

With the new plant expected to create 2000 direct jobs and 20,000 indirect jobs, it is easy to note that steady national investment in agro- processing can help curb the spiraling unemployment figures and result in substantial economic growth.
As a way forward, encouraging public-private partnerships sector should help Uganda reap the numerous fruits of substantial investment in agriculture and agro-processing.