| By ROBERT Mukiza
President Museveni has severally indicated that the NRM Government is singularly focused on eradicating household poverty in Uganda, especially in rural areas. For example, in 2014 while commissioning the opening of the Jinja Central market, he informed the vendors present that eradicating household poverty was his Government’s priority.
In 2019, while addressing over 1,000 leaders in Fort Portal, he also rallied them to fight household poverty. Similarly, in 2020, while attending the wedding of one of the “abazukkulu”, he urged families to fight household poverty through engaging in commercial agriculture. This challenge of having a large proportion of our population, mostly women and youth, stuck in poverty and the subsistence economy has also been highlighted in the National Development Plan III.
This situation is attributable to a number of constraints, such as: low agricultural production and productivity, poor competitiveness of our agricultural products, poor market access, poor storage of products, limited value addition and lack of inter-institutional coordination among Government Ministries, Agencies and Departments. The NRM Manifesto of 2021-26 mentions this same issue of low household incomes and having over 68.9% of households stuck in subsistence agriculture, as part of its unfinished business.
It is not my intention to give the impression that nothing has been done to address this problem, so far. A lot has been done.
Over the last five years, Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) has sought to support the 68.9% of our population stuck in the subsistence agriculture, to improve their productivity, household incomes and food security. Specifically, it has focused on providing advisory services in the selection of the right agricultural ventures, as well as, engaging in agriculture as a business.
Indeed, if one reviews OWC’s work since inception, one cannot fail to be impressed by the results. For example: 702 million coffee seedlings were distributed to 1.2 million coffee farmers, leading to an increase in coffee production from 4.55 million bags in 2015 to 7.75 million bags in 2019. Similarly, maize production increased from 2.6 metric tonnes in 2015 to 5 million metric tonnes in 2019. Tea increased from 67,000 metric tonnes to 79,466 metric tonnes, in 2019. Operation Wealth Creation has therefore led to the overproduction of many products and commodities.
Unfortunately, this has also led to many farmers getting discouraged due to the low prices and wastage of their produce due to lack of access to ready markets. The challenge here is clear, there is need to go beyond increasing production, to adding value and finding markets for our processed agricultural products. That is why the parish model that has been proposed by the OWC team for the second phase of their activities, needs to be embraced by all stakeholders.
Firstly, parish based production cooperatives should be established and used to educate farmers on appropriate technologies, as well as, suitable post handling practices.
Secondly, regional marketing and processing hubs should be established targeting the 14 production lines in the real economy, namely: maize, cassava, bananas, beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, millet, sugarcane, cattle, Dairy, coffee, tea, cocoa and fish.
Thirdly, the challenges encountered by OWC in the distribution of agricultural inputs in the first phase, should inform the fast roll out of the e-voucher system, for the distribution of inputs. As much as possible, this needs to be coordinated by the parish based production cooperatives.
Finally, these same cooperatives should be supported to establish and run farm service centers, that will act as one stop shops for agricultural extension services, information and inputs. Most importantly, the farmers should play a leading role and have a stake in the success of this parish model.
Mr Robert Mukiza is an international investment expert.