Agriculture; Which Agriculture?

Agriculture; Which Agriculture?

Speaking at the CEO Annual Forum 7th edition, Dr. James Mwangi noted ‘’one tourist creates ten employment opportunities along the value chain from transporters, to the hoteliers, airlines and the rest, and that becomes a huge employer.’’ Does Uganda’s agricultural sector offer such opportunities along the value chain? Your answer is good as mine.

The government of Uganda through National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) says it will come up with a ground plan to change the livelihoods of farmers. All these great ideas are shredded on paper. According to a recent study by Habitat for Humanity Uganda reveals that 2/3 of Uganda's peasant families live in substandard houses. This is majorly attributed to the subsistence farming at most family levels.

Moses Jameson is a role model farmer in Koliri Sub-county, Bukedea District. His parents have been practicing subsistence agriculture mainly growing maize and beans since his childhood. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry, Moses had a divided mind – either to continue with the farming or abandon it and move on. “I wanted something beyond maize and beans,” reads a paragraph from Moses’ high school notebook.

Farmers in Aminit village would harvest crops at almost same time intervals. They flooded Miroi market with maize and beans produce. Traders from Malera and Kidongole sub-counties took advantage by offering lower prices. Remember, the produce is perishable. Moses’ parents would then be forced to sell at the prevailing prices. The return on investment over time reduced significantly. Moses recall a time when he sold a 100kg sack of maize at Ugx150 per kg.

He had to think otherwise. During his conversation with the writer, he almost broke into tears. “I would be a medical doctor now. But due to little seasoned money from the sale of beans and maize, I had to divert my career,” noted Moses.

They say it’s a fool who makes the same mistake over time and again. Moses learnt his lessons. So, he decided to do something new his fellow villagers had never thought of except for those who had extracted the product from forests. He chose apiculture. Apiculture is the practice of managing honeybee colonies to obtain honey.  

“I keep bees. I have opened the bee farm in my home district Bukedea. This is the beginning of the project but the results are very much promising. I have about 100 bee hives deployed already. There is good occupancy of the bee hives. Each bee hive costs estimated Ugx1.5m. You have to invest in land, fencing and growing trees,” notes Moses.

Moses’ bee farm occupies four hectares of land. Medium tall trees were grown to house the bee hives. To avoid disturbance from intruders, the land is fenced with barbed wires.      

Honey is extracted within 6-8 months. This can be done twice a year especially during dry season. “I have imported the processing equipment. Once harvested and processed, all I need is to pick and sell. There is no serious value addition. It is already value added product,” adds Moses.

When asked why he chose apiculture, Moses replied. “I chose bee keeping because I wanted a product which is not perishable. For honey, it can be kept for a longer period. For perishables, you will be forced to sell even when the prices are low.”

Moses is not different from other Ugandans who think that agriculture is the country’s gold mine. How do you ensure that agricultural activity is competitively rewarding? The benefits of agriculture accrue to who is financing it. Are the farmers themselves able to finance the transformation of the sector? If the farmers are enabled to do drive the process, then the benefits of agriculture accrue to them. If Uganda is able to uplift the welfare of the farmers then achieving Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth becomes very easy.

How do we do ensure value addition? Most of our agricultural produce is exported while in the raw form. This makes the agriculture is a low value sector. To industrialize, there must be purchasing power. Industrialization is not a good choice now till the domestic market has the ability to buy. Uganda’s imports are consumer goods. There are very little capital goods and then no exports at all. This must be reversed. Let our biggest expenditure go on capital investment for the long term sustainability of this economy. If we are to attain middle income status by 2020 as our leaders wish, it’s high time we prioritize where to spend the hard earned tax payers’ money.

When it comes to budgeting, our leaders budget for what they haven’t prioritized for. When it comes to accountability, government agencies and ministries account for what they have not implemented. Who should ensure that government programs impact the citizens?