The last instalment of rain for 2019/2020 have arrived nearly on time, throwing the farming communities in a frenzy. Rain is the lifeline of most perennial crops, sugarcane, coffee and cocoa. Efficient annuals, maize, legumes and lastly vegetables - all thrive in high rainfall. If the rain holds up, it will end the dry spell that has bedevilled southwest Uganda for more than a year now.
The rest of the news from the farming world is mixed. Rainfall totals are dropping in most parts of the country affecting yields. The government has proposed irrigation as the panacea to water shortages, a risky if not death sentence to farming communities.
Drilling for water targets the water table, the water bank that nourishes springs, brooks. Drilling for water also thins surface water sources. It is possible that communities that are dammed extensively and are implementing irrigation are the same ones experiencing scorched earth conditions.
In the Caribbean, desert-like conditions emerged from nowhere, turning once rich dark soils into granules of sand in a short time. The Caribbean famously grows fresh vegetables for the United States, especially asparagus, broccoli and cucumber.
It is doubtful very few farmers can afford to go through the rigorous procedure of applying for a surface water extraction permit managed by the Directorate of Water Development. As 2020 beckons, the world is waking up to serious substantial nutrition problems. First is lower disease resistance due to poor feeding habits. Many countries trapped in an inflationary spiral, low growth, flat incomes are seeing a collapse in meat consumption.
The Pakistanis are fleeing to vegetables, for example, as they can no longer afford meat. Grade A beef in Uganda jumped from up from Shs11,000 to Shs16,000 per kg in 2018/2019. Chicken whose demand is partly seasonal rose from Shs11,000 to Shs15,000 to Shs17,000 for a broiler.
Now the shocker even before talking about pork, peas are right where beef was at Shs11,000 per kilo and fresh beans not far behind atShs7,000 per kilo. Dry beans have risen sharply from Shs2,500 a kilo to Shs4,000 a kilo.
The African farmer, long a beneficiary of EU largesse, is seeing a lot of stress from cheap imports. Local supermarkets in Kampala are importing fruits from South Africa, oranges from Swaziland, chicken and onions from the EU. A feature in Cameroon estimates that landed cost for some of these items are 30 per cent less than domestically produced food. African countries in exchange for access to EU and SADCC markets have been forced to open up their domestic markets starting in 2019 in order to retain low tariff access to these markets.
Nigeria is importing more cut flowers, pizza from the UK while exporting its last trees as charcoal. Apparently its native trees flavour the meet differently compared to cheaper charcoal from countries like Poland, which are earning a fortune from planted timber. Flowers far from being a symbol of affluence communicate the opposite. People like to feel good about themselves. Unless government does something to protect shea butter trees in northern Uganda, it will lose some of the feel good income from shea butter whose quality is much better than that from West Africa.
Food regulators must think of preserving prime food for their local populations. In 2019, it came off as a big embarrassment that the Kenyans were exporting Grade A fish from their overfished tiny portion of Lake Victoria to China and importing pond fed fish from China.
Travellers to Masaka cross Lukaya (Kalungu), the parliamentary seat of the Minister of Agriculture in the middle of the Katonga estuary. In 2019, Parliament tried and failed to protect “Lwera” from an attack of rice production. You would think you are in the Chinese villages, Zhiyang Rice Millers, even a famous pastor Kakande is in on the game. This false economy on the environment is a hazard.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law
and an Advocate. email@example.com