What you need to know:
Flash floods fueled by El Nino are likely to have a big impact on agricultural production, leading to food shortages and higher food prices.
Erratic weather patterns that the country is set to continue experiencing over the next three months, will have a direct bearing on agriculture, livelihoods and ultimately the economy, Prosper Magazine has learnt.
According to Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), the country should brace for erratic weather patterns until the end of this year.
This is not the first time Uganda is contending with what the weather experts describe as EL Nino event. Uganda experienced severe weather during an El Nino event in 2006, leading to massive flooding in the Teso, Lango and Acholi regions.
According to experts Uganda remains susceptible to climate shocks and flooding resulting from the EL Nino development whose implications on economic sector activities is always far-reaching.
According to Bank of Uganda’s monetary policy report for August 2023, Uganda’s growth momentum is beginning to wane reflecting low domestic demand as higher interest rates weigh on activity and bad weather conditions, which affected agricultural production.
In a statement, the acting executive director of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), Dr Bob Alex Ogwang, noted, “EL Nino event in Uganda is often associate with heavy or enhanced rainfall.”
The statement signed by Dr Ogwang, reveals, “EL Nino alone does not translate into rainfall but rather an effect that modulates weather patterns leading to increased rainfall over Uganda during the September, October, November and December (SOND) rainfall season.”
However, the rainfall amounts associated with EL Nino can vary significantly from one EL Nino to another, according to UNMA report. For instance, 1987 was an EL Nino year, but it did not result into heavy rainfall. Additionally, in 2015, the EL Nino index was higher than 1997 but did not experience as much rainfall reaching flood levels during October to December 1997 over several places in Uganda.
Feeling the pinch
Already, farmers are not only taking notice of the erratic weather patterns but also feeling the impact of the previous seasons now further complicated by the start of the EL Nino event last month.
Speaking last week in an interview during the Farmer Managed Seed Systems Caravan 2023 at PELUM Uganda head office in Kampala, Ms Asio Grace, a small holder farmer in Soroti said: “We don’t know whether to plant now or delay a little bit.”
She continues: “We want to plant quick maturing crops but we are not sure whether the heavy, uncontrollable rains will not render our efforts useless. We are also not sure whether we are staring at the beginning of a drought season or not.”
Just like the rest of the small holder farmers across the country, Ms Asio follows weather patterns while making a decision to plant or not to.
“I know of many farmers who are trying to wait and see how the weather patterns turn out. This unpredictability will affects production,” Ms Asio who was representing farmers from Teso sub-region told Prosper Magazine.
In response, UNMA, noted in anticipation of EL Nino likely conditions, that decision makers and the public are advised to develop preparedness and response actions to manage the likely impacts associated with the EL Nino phenomenon.
Toll on rain-fed agriculture
When contacted, the director of research and policy at Bank of Uganda, Dr Adam Mugume, said: “There is a positive relationship between rainfall and economic growth because agriculture is generally rainfall fed, meaning that high rainfall stimulates economic growth through agriculture.
However, extreme rainfall, either too much or too little, could reduce economic output.”
Given the importance of agriculture and the country’s dependence of the sector, the erratic rainfall patterns, he said, “will have potentially severe consequences for economic growth.”
According to Dr Mugume, “Erratic rains make planning for agricultural activities very difficult, resulting in crop failures in the event that planting happens outside the rainfall pattern.”
Dr Mugume is of the view that government focuses on agriculture insurance, saying it is one way of mitigating the effects of erratic weather patterns.
“Uganda’s social economic transformation requires incorporating climate change into all aspects of economic management and planning,” Dr Mugume concludes his thoughts.
Hitting your pocket
In another interview with Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) agricultural economist, Dr Christine Arwata Alum, any shock on the agriculture sector will affect household incomes and livelihoods without sparing the economy, considering that Uganda’s economy is largely dependent on agricultural production and related value chain.”
“Our farmers depend on rain. If we have too much rain or less, majority of our small holder farmers’ production will simply collapse,” Dr Alum who is also a volunteer research associate at the EPRC in the sectoral department told Prosper Magazine last week.
With crop failure, she said: There will be food shortages. This will lead to increased food prices, food insecurity and nutrition challenges. Players in the agricultural value chain will not be spared either in terms of loss of employment.
“Anything that hits agriculture will have a bearing on livelihoods, household incomes and the ripple effect could be spread across the economic sectors because our economy not only heavily relies on agricultural production but also accounts for livelihoods of majority of the population.”
According to researcher Alum, continuous monitoring of the sector vis-à-vis its response to the erratic weather patterns must be on top of the policy makers’ list. This should be in addition to availing farmers with functional advice and information pertaining to the challenge at hand.
Should the situation get out of hand, Dr Alum recommends sourcing basic commodities elsewhere including from neighbouring countries. Alternatives that will elongate shelve life of “our produce” including dry food products, should be considered.
For the long term, she noted: “We can invest in varieties that are resistant to drought and unpredictable rain patterns. We also need to invest in infrastructure such as dams and reservoirs that could come in handy in times like this especially in semi-arid areas that are often times vulnerable to drought. Irrigation is another feasible measure that will require functional water dams and proper reservoir systems.”
As for the chairperson, Uganda Agribusiness Alliance, Ms Victoria Sekitoleko, the weather department warning regarding EL Nino events tantamount to bad news for the sector.
The former Minister of Agriculture told Prosper Magazine: “There is no crop in Uganda which is happy with erratic rains.” Among other crops she pointed out oranges, coffee and even beans as being sensitive to erratic weather patterns.
Like many other sector experts, she believes there is no quick fix save for proper, long term planning.
“If we are looking at the long term, then we better get our forests back. It is only our vegetation that can moderate weather,” she said.