By Max Patrick Ocaido
KAMPALA. World Bank has revealed why Uganda’s agricultural sector is still lagging behind other neighbouring countries despite being the backbone of the country’s economy.
Statistics show that Agriculture employs at least 70% of Ugandans, overwhelmingly on small farms; occupies half of all land area, and provides half of all exports and one-quarter of GDP in Uganda. It is considered a leading sector for future economic growth and economic inclusion in the current National Development Plan.
However, in its latest report titled “Closing the Potential-Performance Divide in Ugandan Agriculture” World Bank has revealed that food insecurity, poverty, and nutritional quality remain major challenges in rural areas of Uganda, and the prevalence of national food imports has increased in the last decade.
Despite having one of the fastest growing population and youngest population in the world, World Bank report says that the country’s agricultural sector continues to grow at a slow pace of about 2% per annum because, “few young people in Uganda wish to become farmers.”
“A survey among young Ugandans from both urban and rural areas revealed that youths are very entrepreneurial, with the majority aspiring to start their own business rather than pursuing careers in teaching, medicine or engineering. Although agriculture is one of the leading sectors in Uganda, only 12% of survey respondents wanted to become farmers (Aga Khan University 2016). Food value chains beyond the farm provide substantial opportunities for entrepreneurship and good jobs with a bright future for career development,” the report noted.
The report adds that whereas population density, the road network, location, soils and a relatively peaceful status tend to favor Uganda’s agriculture compared to its neighbors, farmers in Uganda largely use small-scale, labor intensive technologies, dependent on rainfall that is distributed in two rainy seasons in most of the country.
“The hand hoe is the main production tool. Roughly 10% of farmers use animal traction and 1.2% use tractors. Irrigated agriculture comprises 1.3% of total cultivated land (Olet 2017). The dependence of most smallholders on rain-fed agriculture without adequate water management is especially concerning in light of increasing climate variability and soil degradation that lowers the water retention of fields,” the report adds.
The report also cites low technology adoption and commercialization levels, unreliable quality of agricultural inputs and land tenure system as some of the hiccups hindering Uganda’s agricultural sector to realize its full potential in fulfillment of Uganda’s Vision 2040, National Development Plan (NDP) II and the new Agriculture Sector Strategic Investment Plan (ASSP).
World Bank also states that Uganda’s agricultural export performance is likely well below its potential. According to the ITC Trade Performance Index that provides a global performance ranking among all countries exporting the same category of products, Uganda is ranked 44th in fresh food and 68th in processed food. The comparable rankings for Kenya are 37th and 94th, respectively; for Rwanda, 94th and 119th; and for Tanzania, 40th and 99th.
The report further recommends for the strengthening of institutional bases, enhancing total factor productivity growth, including through innovation in ICTs, high level engagement in facilitating regional agricultural trade among others.