Over the past few weeks, I have been hard-pressed to keep silent over the issue of the presidential pledge to supply hoes to farmers. The Ugandan farmer has tilled the land for decades and bought their own hoes when they needed them. The beauty about hand hoes is that they are long lasting. As a child, I recall the hoes we had in the village that only occasionally required us to replace their wooden handles.
I agree that for our largely subsistence agriculture, the hand hoe is still vital to the smallholder farmers. However, if one has to modernise agriculture, there is a need to look elsewhere.
The Nile Post reports the President as having stated: “Museveni while campaigning for his fifth term in office in 2015, directed the Prime Minister to procure 18 million hoes in the FY 2016/17 Budget, arguing that the hoes would boost food security and incomes for small landowners, which would spur Uganda to an industrial economy in 2040.”
However, was that a well thought out assertion by the President? Did he appreciate the level of productivity through the reliance on hand-hoes compared to the mechanised options? Every time you read news about agriculture, the government keeps talking about turning farmers from subsistence to commercial farming. Why then this contradiction?
A scrutiny of mechanisation of agriculture programme reveals some flaws. The insistence by the government to distribute large tractors nationwide when the majority of our farmers operate on less than five-acres of land, requires reflection. Even when the tractor services are shared, the unit cost of tilling two acres here, four acres there and five acres elsewhere, is much higher than when you till 50 acres in one place. There is a need to integrate this approach with the provision of simple hand-held technology such as a walking tractor.
Walking tractors are small enough to be manned by a single individual while walking or even seated (depending on the design) and can comfortably till an acre. They can be used to slash, irrigate and do other activities depending on the accessories one has. With affordable and readily available spare parts, maintenance is low. By availing such tractors to smallholder farmers, they are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries. This would be one of the first steps in modernising farming.
The Shs80b for buying hoes could be diverted to construct an assembly plant for Walking tractors, which will guarantee their availability and affordability.
Similar concerns have arisen with Operation Wealth Creation programme. For ages, farmers have been buying seeds or even utilising the leftover seeds from the previous season’s harvest. This was never an issue until someone thought it wise to start offering them free seeds and seedlings thinking that this would transition farmers from subsistence to commercial farming.
This is the reason why experts seek to understand the causes of the symptoms and make appropriate recommendations.