By Raymond Mugisha
Expert estimates put daily births in Uganda at about 5,000 babies. Uganda is one of the countries with the fastest population growth rates in the world, well within the 10 leading ones. With liberalisation of the education sector and huge investment in education, relatively many Ugandans have acquired a level of formal education. Many have actually qualified out of universities and other higher institutions of learning with academic degrees and diplomas. According to recent World Bank estimates, 700,000 young people reach working age every year in Uganda while only 75,000 jobs are created each year. The bank goes ahead to indicate that as such, more than 70 per cent of Ugandans are left employed in agriculture but on a subsistence basis. It further says that an average of one million young people are expected to reach working age between 2030 and 2040. While the government of Uganda already accords significant focus on creation of jobs, it will ordinarily be difficult for job creation efforts to keep pace with such demographic forces.
Just like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, a very young population poses a challenge for Uganda both from a governance and socio-political stability perspective. Africa’s very young population brings with it the challenge that most of the youths’ expectations are not met, and, putting into context historical and global environmental factors, will not be easy to meet. Uganda is no exception to this challenge. However, Uganda holds a special place of hope in her agricultural production potential and the surrounding need for food, which is growing and will continue to do so. Looking at Uganda’s food stalls in markets, the fresh produce that lines roadsides in many parts of the country, and truckloads of fresh crop and animal outputs from farms, one may be tempted to imagine that there is a lot of input in mechanisation and industrialisation of agriculture in the country. However, in 2010, Uganda Bureau of Statistics reported that less than one per cent of agricultural households practiced irrigation in Uganda while Ministry of Water and Environment indicated in 2011 that the area equipped for irrigation was less than three per cent of the total potential irrigable area.
Uganda is one of the countries in the world with such a high potential for irrigation with over 15 per cent of her surface area covered by fresh water resources. The utilisation rate of the entire renewable surface water resources of the country was only 0.01 per cent as of 2013. According to FAO, Uganda's fertile agricultural land has the potential to feed 200 million people. Only 35 per cent of the country’s arable land is being cultivated while 80 per cent of all the land is arable. The general lack of irrigation and fertiliser use results in vulnerability of agricultural production, prone to damage from waning reliability of rainfall and destruction from pests.
Certainly, irrigation is not all it takes for a full-scale industrialisation of agriculture, but the information above illustrates the potential Uganda enjoys as a country. If Uganda was to consider rising to her capacity to feed 200 million people, there would have to be enhancement in other elements of agricultural mechanisation, intensifying of agricultural extension services, and perhaps rethinking of a lot of a large portion of our agricultural value chain. Fortunately, the government has been giving significant focus to infrastructure development which forms part of the foundation needed to facilitate a modern farming model, on a national scale. The trend of decentralised administration which has seen centres of governance evolve at grass root levels in form of upcoming town councils could be used to run the most population-centric agricultural extension services. Wrapping up all the above to come up with modern farms, agricultural value-addition facilities and all other accompanying support services would take up a significant number of youths into gainful employment. With Africa running an annual food import bill of about $35billion (about Shs133 trillion), the opportunity in food production is immense.
In recent years, Uganda, and most of Africa, faces the dilemma that their young population many of whom lack employment, look to their governments for urgent solutions. Part of the results of this has been growing political activism, in some instances fueled by external influence. This has destabilised a number of African states, and so far none where youths have risen in mass revolt due to political agitation, has registered a good report. To prevent other similar scenarios, Africa should strategize to place her many youths in gainful employment. For Uganda’s case, to achieve this, there is a “low hanging fruit” opportunity in rapid modernisation and industrialisation of agriculture. The natural endowments of fertile soils and ample water resources pre-exit to make this a comparatively easily attainable target.
Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant