Will the hoe economics deliver growth?

Tuesday December 1 2015


By Ismail Musa Ladu & Dorothy Nakaweesi

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) government has a gigantic plan: A plan to deliver Uganda to a middle income country by 2020.

Uganda, according to an April Credit Suisse report, is a low income country with an estimated average income per adult of $674 (Shs2.5m).

World Bank specifics put middle income earners at between $1,036 (Shs3.8m) and $12,615 (Shs47.3m).
In August President Museveni told Ugandans in a message that “owing to NRM achievements, especially bringing peace, the historical league and party structures seconded me to pick nomination forms for NRM chairman and presidential flag bearer 2016 with a mission of leading Uganda to a middle income country by 2020.”

The message, though short on details, asked Ugandans to “join me (President Museveni) on this rewarding journey”, which, according to National Development Plan (NDP) specifics would, in the next five years, give every Ugandan an average monthly income of $1,033 (aboutShs3.8m).

However, the irony is the lack of any tangible or immediate plan that could miraculously pull the more than 64 per cent of unemployed Ugandans to a level where they can earn President Museveni’s planned Shs3.8m monthly income in just five years.
More exposing are the recent campaign promises that fall short but only promise to give Ugandans hoes to promote agriculture as well as establishing industries where there is no electricity supply.

In a letter, that appeared to have shocked many, President Museveni, on November 20, directed Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, to expedite a Cabinet discussion that had pledged to deliver 18 million hoes to six million smallholder farmers.
The hoes, which are rudimentary by nature, according to experts can hardly deliver on government’s agenda of commercialised agriculture but President Museveni argues they will guard against food insecurity.


Government, will in the 2016/17 Budget, need Shs180b, which is almost 30 per cent of Shs417b allocated this financial year to the ministry of Agriculture, to buy 18 million hoes at an approximated cost of Shs10,000 each.

The amount is on the assumption that it will be free of bureaucratic exaggerations and the supplier will be chosen on the supposition of the lowest price quotations.

The hoes agenda is a departure from a 2006 pledge by government to deliver “walking tractors” with harrowing implements to farmer groups at parish level to boost agriculture production.

Interviewed for this article, former agriculture minister, Victoria Ssekitooleko, just like many Ugandans, questioned why in this day and age government would even be talking of hoes, which as she said: “When I hear of farmers being promised hoes I feel like fainting.

“It is only fair and prudent that they (farmers) be provided with tools that will help them increase production but not hoes,” she said.

Hand-held tractors could be a better option in
Hand-held tractors could be a better option in terms of mechanising agriculture. file photo.

Equally shocked is Charles Ogang, the president of Uganda National Farmers’ Federation, who upto now does not believe that President Museveni genuinely made such a promise.
“This must be a political statement made at a spur of the (political) moment. Farmers deserve better if they are to move to the next stage,” he said.

But beyond the politics is a seemingly disillusioned farming population whose problems, according to Daniel Lukwago, a researcher and economist with Nanner Consult, are beyond the hoes.

“People (farmers) can afford that (hoes). The problems are market, post-harvest handling and need for information that can help farmers yield better crops.”

And for this Musa Muwanga, the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda chief executive officer, believes farmers’ issues should look at a more serious approach that will make it easier for them to afford more than hoes.

“We are doing very badly in terms of storage. At the airport (Entebbe) there is only one storage facility that is normally filled by a single company. Let’s address such issues and creating sustainable market and people will be able to buy hoes for themselves.”

Therefore, according to Yona Kanyomozi, an economist and retired politician, President Museveni should desist from making such jokes considering that “the cost involved (Shs180b) is outrageous”, and “this money should be used to strengthen farmers’ cooperatives or invested in agricultural research.”

Right move
But to those in government President Museveni’s message could have been misconstrued as Joseph Muvawala thinks tractors cannot deliver in isolation.

Muvawala, who is the National Planning Authority (NPA) executive director, says “even if you have a tractor you cannot use it to dig a hole - so you cannot phase out hoes”.

The hoes, he says, are just but part of the larger strategic plan that seeks to pull the rural poor out of poverty.
The strategic plan, as drawn out in NPA’s agenda, involves distribution of other farm inputs including seedlings and fertilisers, among others.

Such initiatives, Aggrey Bagiire, says are necessary and it is the President’s discretion to choose what to give and not to.
“I am now on ground and as you may want to know, farmers borrow hoes from neighbours. If the President, in his wisdom, thinks it is okay, then why not, he is the President,” Bagiire who was until recently the state minister for agriculture, said.

But beyond the President’s desires, according to Ezra Suruma, a Presidential Advisor and former finance minister, is the need to rethink strategies because “we tried using hand tractors which we imported from Thailand and China but did not work. People still need hoes”.

But challenged to explain whether this was not a departure from government’s agenda of attaining a middle income economy, Suruma said: “Modernisation of agriculture takes time. We can’t get there in one day. And I believe people still need hoes because it is an important tool.”

Therefore, Suruma, just like others in government, believe it is commendable that President Museveni boldly thought and made a decision to procure hoes for the rural poor, because as he says, farmers “have previously been provided with tractors but instead used them for transport purposes”.

But to others, such as Gideon Badagawa, the Private Sector Foundation Uganda executive director, the hoe only but demonises farming.

“Whatever number of hoes is procured will not lead this country into a middle income status come 2020,” he said.
Alternatively, Badagawa, says farmers should be organised into groups through which they can be provided with advanced implements such as tractors in order to achieve commercial agriculture.

Aly Khan Satchu, a Nairobi based markets analyst, thinks the challenge of sub-Saharan Africa agriculture is land sub-division, therefore, “I think the President being cognisant of the existing landscape is targeting this important small-holder farmer community.”

Failing to do enough

Some of President Museveni’s promises, according to analysts, could be out of touch and unrealistic to the current challenges.
Uganda is currently grappling with massive youth unemployment which the Uganda Bureau of Statistics recently put at more than 80 per cent.

Majority of Ugandan youth are not involved in gainful employment and few, if any, have taken the trouble to engage in agriculture due to its rudimentary nature. However, much of this is blamed on government’s failure to invest in the sector.

For instance, analysts argue, government has not invested enough, especially in research which could help to promote commercial agriculture.

Government, has since 2003, failed to implement the Maputo Declaration which requires that African governments allocate 10 per cent of their budgets to agriculture.