It’s a Sunday morning. I am enjoying a cup of real coffee at Java in Bugoloobi with a childhood friend of mine from Nyabushozi County in town for a day. He is a descendant of cattle keepers. My phone goes green and I inform him that my local agricultural officer in Kalangala is calling.
It is a VIP call I have to take. I exchange quick pleasantries and he advises me that there is some Window II fertiliser available for sale. I will return to Window II in a moment. To calculate how much fertiliser needed to apply on Kalangala’s notoriously stubborn lateritic soils requires both of us to do some homework.
In a minute, he sends me a text message with the application rate. I will then feed it to my coffee farm team leader before responding to it.
This 10-minute exchange may probably be what may have been at the mind of the President when he read the State-of-the-Nation address last week. The big speech identified agriculture, industry, ICT and services as the drivers of the economy.
What has baffled Mr Museveni probably for the last 15 years has been that most major government interventions in these sectors have been resounding failures.
In his speech, he spoke about the rising of non-alcohol entertainment, specifically domestic coffee consumption that is putting some more money in the pockets of farmers.
He probably forgot to add that another positive intervention in the coffee sector improved seeds are yielding coffee all year round and in this year 2014, the year of the greenstalk, the Almighty Namugereka has blessed the country with well distributed rains.
Between 2006 and 2010, I was informally recruited by the managing director of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) as a contact person or ambassador for their cause. We spent countless days, hours moving from place to place for insights on how value addition could work in the coffee sector.
It was at a time when budgets for the coffee sector had been cut to nearly anaemic levels. UCDA, a statutory body, was subsisting on a Shs3 billion per annum budget and 1 per cent export levy. What it had for district offices had been reduced to distant outposts. At the time a big experiment called Naads was in ascendancy.
In frigid meetings at the development bureaucracy called the World Bank in Washington D.C., we unsuccessfully pleaded with the authors of Naads to give coffee a special window given its history as Uganda’s largest single export. Naads at the time was very busy implementing cassava and potato special groups and throwing money into direct procurement of inputs and animals causing havoc in the animal husbandry sector. Very few of the beneficiaries of Window I inputs, which were distributed politically at great mark-up, have results to show.
The agricultural sector has continued to underperform the broader economy, growing a measly 1.8 per cent in 2012/2013 and dragging down overall economic growth to 6 per cent per annum.
Overtime, the quick-money Naads and the politicians have began realising the folly of the scores of bogus PR tours and glossy advertisements. Politicians still give but there is a Window II a used market for inputs that beneficiaries sell to bona-fide farmers at a steep discount.
This part of Naads is a response to a near collapse of a policy framework to distribute inputs to farmers.
I can access coffee seedlings at Shs400 rather than Shs500 or Shs600. Fertiliser will cost a fraction. Window 2 is so important, especially now in the minority of farmers who persevered in the politically divisive times.
We are reporting that we have lots of ripe berries finally falling off our coffee bushes in the year of the greenstalk and we don’t want to see our link to the scientific extension of the agricultural world sent enmasse to the streets.
We are also afraid that unlike Mzee Kijana, we are too busy to learn how to salute to our new uniformed bosses.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. firstname.lastname@example.org