By Jimmy Ocen
KAMPALA: Apart from manufacturing, there’s no faction in the services sector that contributes a larger share of gross domestic product than agriculture. Data from Bank of Uganda (BoU) indicates that the services sector contributes 41.5% of gross domestic product, with manufacturing contributing 27.4% which is just slightly above 23.7% for agriculture.
According to an annual agriculture survey conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBoS), the agricultural sector is the largest employer in Uganda and remains essential to secure the livelihoods of Ugandans. Agriculture pays about 70% of the Ugandan population with the remaining 25% and 5% split between the service and industry sectors respectively.
It is against this background that despite agriculture’s potential to create mass employment as well as enhance household incomes, it still appears largely disoriented with scanty resources allocated to it. There’s dire need for substantial interventions to deliver the desired returns in agriculture.
For instance, smallholder farmers, who make majority of the total agriculture value chain, continue to grapple with challenges; the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and inadequate farm inputs that have derailed food and income security influenced by a decline in production volumes and the quality of output.
Therefore, to increase resilience against calamity and climate change as well as allow food access, income generation and improved health for smallholder farmers and their clientele, well-grounded interventions must be adopted and/or implemented.
To start with, there is need to complement efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture, by creating a national agriculture development unit. The unit should comprise of technocrats with a mandate to wholly transform agriculture systems by generating and implementing ideas that seek to improve every sub sector.
Subsequently, creating a national database that profiles all farmers as well as conduct livestock and poultry censuses across the country will ease interventions from development partners, government and financial institutions as well as enhance planning and decision making.
Land also remains a key challenge due to the declining landholding and increased population in Uganda. There is need to aggregate agro-ecological zones to curb the impact of land fragmentation through clustering land or farmers to ease access to resources such as tractors and inputs.
Access to affordable financing remains a challenge to most smallholder farmers because of fear of exposure to systematic risks, lack of collateral and limited or no access to financial institutions in rural areas and yet like any other sector, agriculture thrives on the availability of investable capital.
It is imperative therefore, that through cooperatives, agricultural financing, be made available to member farmers. Loan products including agro-processing, seasonal production, agro-inputs among others should also be readily accessible with amicable interest rates and mutually beneficial payment periods for the smallholder farmers.
In addition, subsidies or recovery/stimulus packages coupled with friendly monetary and policy measures on financial institutions should be granted by the government to offer value for affordable credit.
Calamity is unavoidable. In instances where drought, floods or pests and diseases impact a farmers’ yields there should be a recovery plan. It is eminent that credit facilities incorporate insurance covers in loan products that are issued to farmers. This is to safeguard them against any calamity on the farm and guarantee a less disruptive redo.
Water for production also needs to be boosted through a deliberate national strategy that includes construction of regional irrigation systems available to farmers through an annualised fee for eased maintenance. This is important in mitigating the risk from the recurrent effects of drought on crop and animal projects.
Skilling is often under looked and yet farmers especially subsistence farmers, women and youth require training to enable them to realize the full potential in agriculture. Farmers’ forums and grassroot level discussions enhance knowledge acquisition which in turn improves the agricultural sector.
Other key focus areas should include national distribution of fertilizers, and mechanization through provision of inputs such as tractors, draught animals, planters, and sprayers to improve farm yield and input optimization.
In conclusion, value addition that focuses on setting up regional agro processing industries and enhancement of regulatory requirements to limit importation of competitive products that flood the local market with the earlier stated interventions, will be a game changer in the transformation of the agriculture sector.
The writer is an agriculture enthusiast and works with PostBank Uganda as the Manager Agriculture Lending.