The other side of farming

Michael J. Ssali

What you need to know:

  • Even when farm yields look promising the farmer worries about price fluctuations. For example, when there is a general shortage of tomatoes the price goes up and many farmers rush to plant tomatoes. 

We often talk about farming as a well-paying and economically dependable occupation. Most people go to live in the upcountry as farmers upon their retirement from formal employment in the cities. 

Our leaders in their various capacities encourage the youth to take up farming instead of walking the streets in search of white collar jobs in urban centres. 

However most people who talk about youths becoming farmers rarely put into consideration the availability of land on which the youths may practice farming. Land scarcity is a big issue almost everywhere and it is not every Tom, Dick and Harry that can easily find space for agriculture.

That put aside, farming is not a bed of roses and it is not always a reliable source of income. Most smallholder farmers can be described as self-employed. When they do not work or if they make silly decisions they face the consequences directly. If there is a flood or hailstone or a crop disease and the entire farm is destroyed it is the farmer who suffers directly. The farmer or his wife may fall sick for periods of time and as the calamity goes on it is most likely that no income generation will be taking place. 

A long drought such as the one we have just gone through may occur and kill off all the crops and it will be the farmer to “face the music.” Thieves or rodents may invade the farm and steal the crops from which the farmer hoped to earn money.

Particularly now when climate change is right in our face farmers cannot accurately tell when they will plant seeds or even estimate their likely harvest volumes. 

Yet most farmers cannot take up insurance policies against such risks because besides there being too few insurance companies willing to grant insurance cover to farmers, only very few of them can afford to pay premiums. And, to be honest, insurance agencies would be justified to set quite high premiums given that the farmers’ risks are also very high.

Even when farm yields look promising the farmer worries about price fluctuations. For example, when there is a general shortage of tomatoes the price goes up and many farmers rush to plant tomatoes. 
It may turn out however that too many people come up with high yields of tomatoes leading to a fall in the demand for them since they are everywhere. 

Mr Michael Ssali is a veteran journalist, [email protected]

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