Uganda has for many years and by many economic experts and fanatics alike been referred to as the food basket of East Africa. That is a fact. Another fact for sure is that Ugandans specifically in the North Eastern and eastern regions face starvation and severe food insecurities. Not to mention various areas of the East African region at large. Despite the affluent fertility of the Ugandan soils and the clandestine management of the communal land in areas not marginalized as strategic operation areas of the colonial regimes (Buganda and Busoga so to mention) at the time, Ugandans have still failed to fully utilize the God given Eden-like fertility of their soils to satisfactorily fulfil its potential as the food basket of East Africa, leave alone improving their own livelihoods through small scale agriculture.
Various issues can be attributed to this failure such as laziness.
A very eloquent and disgraceful reason. Ugandans have been previously ranked the laziest people in East Africa with the lowest labor productivity in terms of value added per worker as stated in a 2014 report. Also, according to the global competitiveness report (Schwabs 2014), it is indicated that compared to other countries in the East African region, Uganda has the lowest labor productivity. Well, that must have changed towards the end of the decade but so little for an impact i imagine. There has also been reports of a decline in Uganda’s soil fertility within this past decade but nothing major to warrant communal laziness leading to it’s failure to fulfil its agricultural potential. Due to the land tenure system in Uganda, many Ugandans have been able to inherit land, vast ranges of land at that which they have failed to fully utilize agriculturally, majorly because of work-ethic related issues. To say, expecting clean diamond rings and necklaces without wanting to get in the mud and retrieve it by themselves; the “ready-made mentality” stopping them from getting involved in both small and large scale agriculture, which surprisingly, is the backbone of Uganda’s economy.
The aforementioned issues do not imply that Ugandans are not undertaking agriculture at all. Ugandans are involved in both small and large scale agriculture but a new and seemingly more severe issue they are faced with is climate change. Agriculture remains the most common job and primary income for most Ugandans, though climate change, exemplified in the 2016 drought that devastated crops and livestock alike, is challenging traditional farming techniques. Before Climate change set in, the agricultural calendar of Ugandan farmers was quite predictable. That is to say farmers knew when the dry spell began and when it ended and when the rainy season set in and when it ended and as a result they would plan accordingly their planting and harvesting schedules. However, with climate change, the weather patterns have become very unpredictable and invariable with some dry seasons taking longer than the normally predicted periods leading to drought and also some rainy seasons taking longer than the normal destroying crops in gardens through heavy rains and erosion. The weather pattern has become so unpredictable that a friend of mine at Uganda Christian University Mukono once joked; “when i entered the University main gate it was scorching hot i was literally on fire but when i reached the lecture room block it was already drizzling.” A true definition of the common phrase “one moment it’s this and the other moment it’s that,” given the distance between the main gate and the lecture room blocks is between 2-5minutes walk. That over there is what Climate change has done. Now imagine what that has done to the thousands of small scale farmers in Uganda who wake up and plant their crops expecting rain but there is no rain for months. Or farmers who wake up expecting to harvest but the unending rains have washed away their fields of crops, leaving the soils eroded. There then surfaces the need for the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal industries and Fisheries to train farmers in variety of techniques to battle drought and erosion while increasing yields. Thus the need to adapt smart farming.
Smart farming is defined by cutting edge techniques, water saving methods, and not as vulnerable as traditional farming to the vagaries of weather. Across Uganda, Agriculture is mainly rain-fed, which means most small scale farmers do not have irrigation systems that help them survive periods of drought. And smart farming comes to solve this problem and others. To produce yields while using smart farming techniques, one could apply a method known as minimum tillage, which minimizes soil manipulation and does not use plough to turn the soil. Instead, one carefully digs holes that create ample space for water to gather when it rains. For one to get such results, a crop has to have enough space-a bank wherein that space, enough water can be stored. This is an easy and viable method for small scale farmers. When it unpredictably rains far beyond the expected margins, the water is therefore stored through this method and in dry spells that water is then used to ultimately irrigate/water the crops.
Smart farming also stretches to using modern technology to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural products. This includes farmers having access to GPS, soil scanning, data management and other technologies. By precisely measuring the variations within a field and adapting the strategy accordingly, farmers can greatly increase the effectiveness of fertilizers and pesticides, and use them more selectively. Similarly, using smart farming techniques, farmers can better monitor the needs of individual animals and adjust their nutrition correspondingly, thereby preventing disease and enhancing herd health.
The Agricultural sector remains the backbone of Uganda’s economy, the main source of livelihood and employment for more than 60 percent of the population. It contributes more than 70 percent of Uganda’s export earnings, according to a report published by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Climate change however continues to cause a major impact on the small scale farmers throughout the country, as farmers lose crops and food prices soar due to the resulting food shortages each season. Uganda specifically in 2016 experienced a dry spell that saw a majority of farmers lose crops and livestock because they lacked the knowledge and resources to cope with climate change. And this, now can be solved through the adoption of smart farming techniques which offer a never before solution to the horrific effects of climate change to small scale farmers.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) has through its Agricultural Sector Strategic Plan (ASSP) outlined that the investment strategy of the Ministry targets to achieve four things namely; increasing agricultural production and productivity, increasing access to critical farm inputs, improving agricultural markets and value addition and improving service delivery through strengthening the institutional capacity of MAAIF and its agencies. The methods employed by the Government and the Office of the Presidency does not effectively push forward this agenda for example the President giving out hoes to thousands of farmers in various areas of the country in this 21st Century which requires modern day farming equipment to combat the different challenges such as climate change and improve yields. The NAADS Project was also replaced by Operation Wealth Creation (OPWC) manned by the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) and there have been complaints from beneficiaries that the seeds are not good enough or soil worthy, breeds of livestock are not the best and also the periods these seeds are distributed are not the best for planting. These issues arise from the inability of the policy makers to study the weather trends caused by the Climate changes over the years and also conservativeness to traditional farming techniques that have become archaic and open to the vagaries of climate change.
The Government of Uganda can now take up this mantle through the concerned Ministry in this case the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal industries and Fisheries to educate and sensitize small scale Ugandan farmers and also through its policies ensure that sustainable land management techniques are employed by Ugandan farmers which in turn prioritize minimum soil disturbances, ensure permanent soil cover and diverse crop rotation leading to high yields; that is through smart farming. The Government should also through OPWC distribute more soil worthy seeds and also better breeds of livestock. The government should also provide farmers with loanable smart farming equipment which will enable them perform soil scanning, to be able to ascertain the viability of the soils and also other data management technologies. These will in turn improve agricultural yields of the small scale farmers while also preserving the soil worthiness and improving their livelihoods thus effectively combating climate change and possibly fulfilling Uganda’s potential as the food basket of East Africa.