Is agricultural sector on right track?

According to the ministry of Finance as presented in the budget speech for Financial Year 2018/19, at least 68.9 per cent of Ugandan households remain engaged in the subsistence economy

Coffee seedlings in a nursery where they are prepared before transplanting to the garden. FILE PHOTO 

BY Misairi Thembo Kahungu

IN SUMMARY

  • Slow growth: Although the agricultural sector is the biggest employer in the country, its growth continues to be low at an average annual growth rate of less than 2 per cent over the last 25 years and is faced with a number of challenges that range from staffing to climate change, writes Misairi Thembo Kahungu

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As the backbone of the economy, the agricultural sector is the biggest employer of Ugandans, standing at about 72 per cent. With the population projected to be about 40 million in a few years, this means the agricultural sector employs about 28,800,000 Ugandans, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics March 22 projection.
Therefore, the rest of the population looks at close to 29 million Ugandans mostly based in the rural areas for the supply of food, dairy products, among others.
According to the ministry of Finance as presented in the budget speech for Financial Year 2018/19, at least 68.9 per cent of Ugandan households remain engaged in the subsistence economy. These households are highly vulnerable to risks such as drought that results from climate change.
While 43 per cent of these households are engaged in subsistence agriculture, producing what they consume. This means there are fewer farmers engaged in commercial agriculture at household level.
Nevertheless, with majority of the households consuming everything they produce, the poverty levels in the rural communities rose from 22.8 per cent in 2013 to 25.8 per cent in 2017, against a marginal increase in urban poverty from 9.3 per cent to 9.4 per cent over the same period, according to the 2017/2018 sector review report.
The agricultural sector growth continues to be low at an average annual growth rate of less than 2 per cent over the last 25 years, compared to population growth of 3 per cent annually.
According to Mr Vincent Ssempijja, the Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), the sector has for the last two years contributed about 25 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
By the end of the 2017/2018 fiscal year, the size of the economy was at Shs101.8 trillion (equivalent to $27.9 billion).

Sector performance
For two days last week, officials from MAAIF, the development partner representatives, farmers’ representatives, the private sector among others were reviewing the sector performance for the fiscal year 2017/18. The highly attended Joint Agricultural Sector Annual Review workshop took place at the Speke Resort, Munyonyo in Kampala.
From the Shs29 trillion national budget, MAAIF was allocated Shs864 billion but according to the Permanent Secretary, Mr Pius Wakabi Kasajja, Shs781 billion was released by the ministry of Finance. This left an implementation deficit of about Shs83 billion.
This allocation that was later not fully funded remains far lower than the 10 per cent of the total budget, which is a requirement for all African countries that are signatory to the African Union 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security.
Despite the funding gaps, the MAAIF registered a number of achievements according to the sector review report.
The coffee production saw the exportation of 4.456 million 60-kg bags in 2017/18 fiscal year – an increase from the 4.187 million 60-kg bags the previous year.
Subsequently, Uganda pocketed $492 million (about Shs1.835 trillion) up from $490 million (about Shs1.827 trillion) in the previous year.
Cotton production, which saw the supply of 2,647 metric tonnes of seeds supplied to farmers in 64 district after injection of about Shs4.4 billion, realised a raise in the export income from $50 million to $54 million (about Shs186 billion) in 2016 to $54 million (about Shs201 billion) in 2017.
With the projection of 184,000 bales of lint, the production went higher to 202,357 bales of lint out of which 182,357 bales were exported.
From the dairy industry, a look at the milk production indicates that there was an increment from 2.2 billion litres in 2016/1 7 to 2.5 billion litres in 2017/18. This realised a whooping Shs2.7 trillion in income from milk both on the local and international market.
In the food crop sector, maize production dropped in 2017 with a total of 2,047,300 tonnes compared to 2,662,000 tonnes in 2016. The report attributed it to bad weather that hit most parts of the country last year.
However, there are no available statistics of how much maize has been produced in the first half of the 2018 calendar year, which has seen the prices dropping to as low as Shs200 per kilogramme in some parts of the country.

Some key interventions
“The bumper harvest of maize is turning into some mere problem but we made efforts in production,” said Mr Kasajja while presenting the sector performance report last week.
According to the report, the ministry established 90,000 demonstration farms countrywide under the extension policy and strategy.
In addition to the recruitment of extension workers, a total of 950 vehicles and 117 motorcycles were distributed.
To improve the quality of dairy products especially meat and milk, the ministry in the year of review equipped 12 district veterinary laboratories, one regional lab, and one central lab with new equipment.
The country has been battling outbreaks of Foot and Mouth disease, anthrax and the persistence of ticks in the cattle corridor over years.
A total of 163 valley dams have been constructed and rehabilitated in the cattle corridor.
For the crop production, the ministry reported that with intensified operations and trainings, the Banana Bacteria Wilt (BBW) was reduced from 6.8 per cent to 5.6 per cent in the last financial year whereas the deadly Fall Army Warms that attack maize was reduced to 20 per cent from 60 per cent in the previous year.
As a sector that everyone looks onto for source of food, there have been persistent challenges that the technical staff are grappling with. Some of theses include insufficient human resource with at least more than 80 key positions still not filled, which overstretches the available staff.
“We believe that efforts put into filling these positions will help our ministry to be more efficient,” said Mr Wakabi who did not divulge details of those key positions.

Challenges
Other challenges are low wage ceiling for the remuneration of staff; climate change that affects the quality of crop yields; pests and disease that affect both the crop and animal husbandry.
To avert some of the challenges like the pests and disease, and poor quality of agricultural products, the ministry reported that it has intensified operations against fake inputs.
More than 10 tonnes of fake agricultural inputs were impounded in the last financial year whereas a priority has been put in place for each extension worker to train one model farm per parish to ensure others are able to learn good practices at all times.
Minister Ssempijja said as a plan to increase on the crop production for value addition purposes to be able to tap more income for farmers, at least 32,000 acres of tea were planted in the last financial year. Also planted are 171,000 acres of oranges and 176, 000 acres of mangoes.
“These are for value addition purposes and source of jobs for women and youths who are the most people employed by the sector. And all the achievements of the year are results of strategic planning, partnerships with private sector and development partners,” Mr Ssembijja said.
He also said the government is planning to set up regional mechanical centres to support the private sector in the provision of earth moving machines to till the land and other machinery to improve on the levels of mechanised agriculture.

What others say
Given that the government of Uganda works with private sector, civil society and the development partners in realising its targets, there are quite many of such partnerships being undertaken in MAAIF. But, what do they make of the sector’s performace as presented in the report?
As a development partner, Mr Joris Van Bommel, the deputy ambassador for The Netherlands, questioned why most parts of the country have not been irrigated despite the abundance of water resources in the country.
“Over 15 per cent of the surface area of Uganda is covered with water yet there are very limited irrigation systems. So, the government should put up irrigation systems that are affordable to farmers because well managed irrigation systems can mitigate climate change challenges,” Mr Van Bommel said.
Mr Charles Ogang from the Private Sector Association challenged the government to market the products that the farmers produce because even those who have managed to go commercial and mechanised agriculture are not realising enough proceeds.
For the civil society, the “stagnation” of the agricultural sector affects the entire economic growth hence calling for more funding to the sector, especially in research, infrastructure and provision of quality inputs.
“How many soil scientists do we have on board? They are supposed to keep testing the soil and advice on how to improve it. If this soil is to feed us then we must feed it too and we must take care of the soil health. Therefore, there is need for soil testing kits to be made as essential inputs for the crop husbandry,” said Ms Agnes Kirabo who represented the CSOs.
Also queried by the participants is the status of the agricultural land given the rampant land grabbing cases. Government has also been giving out land in some of the ranches under the management of the National Animal Genetic Resource Centre and Databank.
However, Mr Ssempijja assured the country that the agriculture land is not being sold out but rather it is being leased out to private investors to help in the breeding of animals that will improve the quality of dairy products.
He said the demand for new and improved breeds of animals is high but the government has no capacity to handle hence involving the private sector. “The private sector is not taking away the land, it is being used for the benefit of the public. The land in the ranches is for breeding for the public and will be done under the Public, Private Partnership (PPP) and the land will be used according to the original government plan,” the minister said.

Limited resources
Uganda has continued to fall short of the recommendation of the AU 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which requires all signatories to allocate at 10 per cent of the total budget to Agriculture.
Asked why this declaration is not adhered to while allocating resources, the chairperson of the parliamentary committee on Agriculture, Ms Janet Okori-Moe, told Daily Monitor that the sector is not doing badly despite under-funding.
Ms Okori-Moe, who is also the Woman MP for Abim District, said the increment in funds allocation to different sectors is a process, adding that the problem for Agriculture is mindset.
“Everything is a process because much as the sector is not being funded fully, we are not doing badly. There is need for mindset change of our farmers. They need to move from rudimentary methods of farming. Only 32 per cent of Uganda is in commercial farming,” said Ms Okori-Moe.

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