Last Friday, President Museveni launched the National Agriculture Policy, meant to revolutionise farming, with the overall objective of achieving food and nutrition security and improving household incomes.
Sulaiman Kakaire explores the policy’s proposals and asks if they are sufficient to address the challenges that have long dogged the sector.
Despite making a significant contribution to Uganda’s socio-economic development through generation of household and national incomes, reduction of hunger, and supporting growth in trade, investments, and industrialization, agriculture has lacked a clear policy to guide regulation, planning and investment. Announcing the launch of the agriculture policy at the Uganda Media Centre earlier last week, Bright Rwamirama, the state minister for Animal Industry, said the policy would extensively guide farmers on government priorities and what role they (farmers) have to play.
“This policy is very practical. If farmers know where they are protected by government, they can plan on the activities to invest in highly,” Rwamirama said as he urged government to give agriculture priority.
The long-awaited policy, which is modelled on Uganda’s Vision 2040, calls for intra- and inter-sectoral coordination and approach in order to achieve the policy objective. To achieve this, the government shall pursue six interrelated objectives.
“For each of the objectives, government shall employ specific strategies to achieve the objectives, working closely with all stakeholders in agriculture, including central and local government ministries, departments and agencies, private sector, civil society, farmers, and development partners,” reads the policy strategy.
The policy’s six objectives are: ensuring food security; increasing incomes of farming households; promoting specialization in strategic, profitable and viable enterprises and value addition through agro-zoning; ensuring sustainable use and management of agricultural resources; promoting domestic, regional and international trade in agricultural products; as well as developing human resources for agricultural development.
To ensure food security, the policy calls for the establishment of a national strategic food reserve system as well as “development and improvement of food-handling, marketing and distribution systems that provide linkages to domestic, regional and international markets “.
In addition, the policy urges government to encourage and support local governments to enact and enforce by-laws and ordinances that promote household food security through appropriate production and storage practices.
Cognisant of the demand for agricultural zoning, the policy says the agricultural development strategies will be developed and pursued according to the agricultural production zones through a commodity-based approach.
“Commodities that are best suited for each zone will receive public sector support for the purposes of food security and for commercialization,” the policy states.
To address agriculture financing, a key impediment to the sector’s growth, the policy suggests that the Finance ministry, in collaboration with other financial sector players, will continue developing appropriate policies, financial products, and services. .
“Complete information on the financial products and services available will be appropriately packaged and disseminated to all potential beneficiaries,” the policy reads.
However, the policy does not offer strategies for addressing the major challenge of budget absorption. In recent years, money allocated to various agricultural initiatives has had to be returned to the Treasury, after units failed to spend it.
As part of the policy implementation, Information Minister Rosemary Namayanja told the media last week during a press briefing, that cabinet has approved increased budgetary provision to procurement of quality seeds’ planting materials and animal breeding stock, particularly in response to anticipated increase in demand in financial year 2015/16.
“Cabinet also directed the minister for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives to establish seven pulping centres in Luweero, Kayunga, Masaka, Soroti, Arua, Kasese and Ntungamo to add value to fruits grown in these districts; and three tea factories in Kisoro, Kabale and Kanungu using funds previously budgeted for Naads,” Namayanja said.
The policy also calls for promotion of processing of food commodities, leather and leather products, textiles and garments, sugar, dairy and other value-added products for niche export markets. This agro-processing is to be achieved through collaboration between the ministries of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, and Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.
“[The collaboration will] foster the link between primary and tertiary agro-processing levels and encourage development and support of start-up agro processing enterprises in agricultural zones,” the policy says.
Although the new policy has been welcomed by watchers of the agriculture sector, some remain sceptical as to whether it will sufficiently address the challenges affecting the sector. “The policy is not changing the status of agriculture working in a liberalised environment,” says Lawrence Bategeka a fellow at the Economic Policy Research Centre, a policy think tank.
Bategeka argues that the policy is couched within the framework of private sector-led and market economy, which is why agriculture has failed to optimise its potential.
“There is a small portion of private farmers who can afford farm inputs; so, the government should come in to provides incentives and make lending to farmers easy,” Bategeka argues in reference to the policy’s suggestion that primary investment to the agricultural sector will be led by the private sector.
In Bategeka’s view, the government should revamp the cooperative movement through which it will be possible to provide incentives to farmers.
“Farm inputs are expensive. So, bearing in mind that most agriculture is practised on a subsistence basis, it is crucial to provide incentives that will commercialise it,” he told The Observer on Friday.
Although agriculture remains the main source of livelihood for at least 70 per cent of the population, its budget share has dwindled from Shs 433 billion in 2011 to Shs 352 billion this financial year. In his 2011 manifesto, President Museveni promised to salvage the sector in order to promote household incomes, but the promise is yet to be fulfilled.
For his part, Dr Fred Muhumuza, an economist at KPMG, says that the market–driven approach is good, but what has to be addressed is the issue of policy implementation.
“The policy will end up like most policies that are not implemented. The agencies that are going to implement the policy are the ones that the ministry of Agriculture has worked with in the past to implement the failed initiatives,” Muhumuza argues, calling for new structures to lead the implementation.