Vegetables and certain roots and tubers last year cost Uganda close to $18m (Shs49b) in imports, according to details from a Ministry of Finance report.
According to a Ministry of Finance report for the period ended December 2019, the country imported edible vegetables which are also locally produced such as potatoes, fresh chilled, tomatoes, fresh or chilled, onions, shallots, garlic, leeks and cabbages.
Others were cauliflowers, kohlrabi, kale, lettuce, chicory, cucumbers and leguminous vegetables dried and frozen.
This, according to a report seen by Daily Monitor, showed that in this period in review, frozen vegetables took the largest share of the import bill in this category worth $4.6m (Shs17b).
More importantly, Uganda spent $4.2m (Shs15.5b) on onions, garlic, shallots and leeks for the period in review.
Other vegetables largely grown locally but also imported were carrots, salad beetroot and turnips where Ugandans spent over $3m (Shs11.1b).
Also in this category, Ugandans imported fried leguminous vegetables, cabbages, and cauliflowers among others.
Uganda is a net importer with much of the country’s imports sourced from Asia, especially China, United Arab Emirates and lately Vietnam.
However, there have been efforts by government to drive the import substitution agenda through policy shifts and formulation such as Buy Uganda Build Uganda.
Ms Victoria Ssekitoleko, the Private Sector Foundation Uganda vice chairperson and president of International Women in Coffee-Uganda Chapter, said in reaction to the composition of the import bill, “The Covid-19 pandemic has allowed us to understand and rethink where and when we spend our money. We should take on import substitution.”
She said Uganda should go back to the early 90’s 10-point programme where point number five suggested that the authorities should help Ugandans produce for the market.
“We need to change the way we’ve been doing things and focus on the value chain method to allow farmers grow for export. This will save the country a big import bill,”Ms Ssekitoleko said.
Other unique vegetable imports
The document which classifies close to 1,500 products imported into Uganda in the year ended December 2019, also indicates that the country imported live trees, other parts, bulbs, roots, cut flowers and ornaments.This cost the country a total of $1.3m (Shs5b).
Here, the biggest import bill went to cuttings and mushroom spawn worth $1.34m (Shs4.9b).
The balance was shared between cut flowers, flower buds for ornamental purposes.
Status of local production
Vegetable crops: Vegetables are a major crop produced in all districts of Uganda. Unfortunately, many vegetables are not specified in detail in the official national data.
The Wageningen Economic Research Report released in 2019 states that onions are among the most widely consumed vegetable crops in Uganda.
“The total area under cultivation is estimated to be 86,500 hactares, with a total production of 344,000 metric tonnes per year,” the report showed.
This places Uganda as the leading producer of onions in East Africa but surprisingly the country imports these vegetables massively too.
The report also places tomatoes as a major crop in Uganda. Most of the tomatoes are bush tomatoes produced in the open field.