Is our type of agriculture really working?

Sunday August 20 2017

By Michael J. Ssali

Most of our farmers work on small plots of land and can be described as family farmers, smallholders or just peasants. This kind of farming provides employment to about 70 per cent of our adult population.
Typically a peasant farmer uses a hand hoe and a machete, as his or her main tools to produce crops on a hectare or two of land.
Most peasants have not yet accepted the wisdom of family planning and continue to raise large families. When the head of the household dies the farm plot is divided up for each one of the children to inherit for such are the dictates of our traditional inheritance system.
The farms are getting smaller, overworked, and less productive as the population to feed gets bigger.
Peasant farming is also beset with such vagaries as pests, drought, and depleted soils. Smallholder farmers can hardly afford inputs like pesticides, herbicides, good quality seeds, fertilisers, and irrigation systems that would increase farm yields and alleviate food insecurity and poverty.
Our country is slow to accept the benefits of biotechnology although farmers are making losses due to incurable crop diseases and the effects of global climate change. We don’t yet have a Biotechnology and Bio-safety Law in place.
Low farm yields increase peasant households’ vulnerability to malnutrition and illness. Malnourished people are the least suited for the strenuous activities of peasant farming. The commonest worry among local leaders today seems to be the availability of efficient medical facilities within the communities.
Yet, the country’s health burden is almost solely linked to malnutrition. According to the Cost of Hunger Report 2013, Uganda loses US$899 million annually due to malnutrition and millions of working hours are lost due to people falling sick or abandoning work to attend burials of people killed by malnutrition related illnesses.
The biggest debate in Uganda today is about land ownership rights.
Nearly all peasants are holding on to their little plots. However, it is large farms, heavy machines like tractors, application of modern science and technology as well as fertiliser usage that have banished hunger and poverty from the other regions of the globe.