On 14th February, 2017, Agriculture minister, Hon. Vincent Ssempijja presented to parliament a joint statement on a UGX 8.47 tn, strategic policy action plan to mitigate the food insecurity and disaster situation in the country. It indicated a growing increase in the population that needs food relief, from 1.3M in November 2016 to 1.58M January 2017 and the urgent need for reform. The Minister also asserted major causes of the hunger for instance; climate change, low fertilizer usage, low or no use of mechanisation, destruction of the environment, sports betting and gambling, over consumption of alcohol as well as negative attitudes towards work. Quite enlightening, however, he forgot to mention one important facet of the problem, the looming leadership crisis.
In my humble opinion the aforementioned precursors of hunger reflect a deeper crisis characterised by poor planning, appropriation and use of the resources, in addition to the failure to build effective and functional institutions. I’m not the only one who perceives this, in 2005, Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, a public policy think tank cautioned the President to desist from politicizing environment conservation. This was after President Museveni stopped National Forestry Authority (NFA) from evicting encroachers in South Western Busoga forest, towards the general elections. The same policy issue highlighted a slow but sure rate at which environmental degradation had gained momentum and the dire consequences to the population.
While the Minister, faults only other factors, senior government officials are directly or indirectly a part of the myriad of problems facing food production. Reports of many grabbing forest reserves, cutting down natural forests for commercial purposes as well as encroaching on swamps are common. In rural areas, the population has been left to uncontrollably descend on swamps. In urban areas, powerful government officials and politicians with the help of security agencies have acted in the same manner only that they are reaping juicier profits from fuel stations, industries and plush estates erected. Hither to that, Hon Ssempijja asserted that Uganda exports an estimated 1400metric tonnes of food daily even amidst a food crisis however, regulation isn’t anywhere in the immediate policy actions by the government.
Duplication of roles and budgets under government ministries is another impediment, for instance irrigation falls under the Ministry of water and Environment as well as the Ministry of Agriculture. In 2017/18 the former has a proposed allocation of UGX 67.46bn while the later will be needing UGX 23.36bn for water for production. A parliament report on the Budget framework paper approved on 1st February 2017, recommended that all water resources be allocated under one competent agency. Hopefully this will also reduce the bureaucratic ping pong both Ministries have been involved in.
Political patronage will also continue to mar socio and economic development because while the incessant creation of administrative units works in favour of political continuity it does not necessarily translate into improved service delivery. Every election cycle comes with its own districts and financial burden. Would it be such a bad idea to revitalize district farm institutes instead? What explanation could possibly justify the expansion of the Internal Security Organisation at parish level and not agricultural extension workers at sub county level to a hungry population? Or why for the last 6 years, the UGX 65bn wage requirement to operationalize the single spine extension system is an unfunded priority while the President gets UGX 90bn in each financial year for donations.
Ironically farmers or producer Cooperative unions that used to support farmers were replaced by Savings and Credit Co-operatives (SACCOs). The infrastructure that used to support famers in production, storage, transportation, marketing etc is dilapidated or no longer existent. The Busitema Agricultural Institute that used to produce skilled agricultural artisans is now a university. Such deliberate policy actions have only worked to stifle agricultural production.
During a recent dialogue on food security; Liberation symposium: Uganda’s food security and youth empowerment situation, lead economist, Prof Augustus Nuwagaba made mention of the fact that no country had ever developed without a functional agricultural bank. However, despite Uganda being largely agrarian, there was very little to show for it. Government as a deliberate policy has opted to litter resources in dysfunctional programmes like agricultural facility, youth livelihood, operation wealth creation and now women fund whose returns are yet to be reaped. Alternatively, these funds could be pooled to form an agricultural bank able to provide cheap-long term credit to agriculture which is and will in the foreseeable future remain central to Uganda’s poverty reduction, economic growth and development. The sector continues to employ about 72% of the total labour force and contributed 22.6% of the national GDP in 2014/15 and accounted for 53% of Uganda’s total exports earnings.
On the same platform the issue of fake seedlings arose and Gen. Charles Angina, the Deputy Coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation, threatened to parade all those supplying fake seedlings, a good move. However, this is putting the cart before the horse. The need to first comprehend the insurmountable importance of the agricultural sector needs to be done before any further action is taken. After the embarrassing performance of NAADs, the Ugandan army took on the mantle to deliver what had earlier failed. Such stop gap measures are common now, with almost all poverty alleviation programs being under the army’s jurisdiction.
All the facets above indicate a gaping hole in Uganda’s leadership, a battle of priorities one could say. Leaders have directly or indirectly played detrimental roles in Uganda’s food production sector, even when they fail to enforce and implement environment policies and laws or encourage and promote environmental degradation through their political statements and pronouncement. Food security will not manifest without concerted efforts from all stakeholders, the leadership being the most important. It is high time Ugandans took accountability seriously and demanded for it from leaders.