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A new CABI-led review has been published which highlights the importance of restoring Uganda’s neglected crops to market as well as the need for increased crop diversification amid food security issues exacerbated by the risks of climate change.

The CABI Working Paper 26 ‘A review of some aspects of Uganda’s crop agriculture: Challenges and opportunities for diversified sector output and food security,’ brings to the fore recommendations to revitalize the country’s declining industries of cotton, cocoa, nut, wheat, barley, rice, sisal, jute, garlic, citrus and castor oil.

Authors CABI’s Dr Monica Kansiime, and colleagues from the Mountains of the Moon University, the Embassy of Denmark in Uganda and the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), also suggest that diverse but intensive crop production coupled with the reduction in postharvest losses, processing and value addition would ‘go a long way in contributing to an expanded agricultural sector output and increased food security of farming households.’

In Uganda, the majority of its 40 million people live in rural areas. Agriculture is a core sector of the economy and the largest employer. The sector accounted for 79% of national poverty reduction between 2006 and 2013 implying that investment in the sector is critical for poverty reduction. The sector also contributes to half of Uganda’s export earnings and a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) (UBOS, 2020).

Despite Uganda being largely agricultural, with the climate and soils suitable for the production of a wide range of crops, average total factor productivity growth in agriculture has been negative for the last two decades.

National agricultural output has grown at only 2% per annum over the last five years, compared to 3.3% per annum growth in Uganda’s population over the same period. As such, food insecurity and poverty remain widespread and the prevalence of national food imports has increased in the last decade.

This is attributed to weakening of the public institutional base for promoting agricultural productivity, inefficiencies in agricultural public expenditures, inadequate agricultural regulation and policies, and a lack of collateralizable farm assets.

The review states that these challenges are compounded by climate change and other frequent shocks (such as outbreaks of pests and diseases), which result in large numbers of people being plunged into an almost permanent state of fragility (Ansah et al, 2019).

Woman in rice field in Uganda (Credit: CABI).

Rice is just one crop where production is below its potential. Musebe et al. (2013) report that NERICA-4 rice (most widely adopted upland variety) farmers in northern Uganda were achieving yield levels of 1,042 kg per ha against the potential yield of 4,000 kg per ha.

Currently domestic annual consumption of rice stands at 220,000 MT giving Uganda a surplus of 40 MT, a good start for export to other countries with importations from Vietnam and Pakistan in recent years having the potential to become a thing of the past.

Another example of declining crops is citrus where the overall problem underlying its production has been a lack of systematic production pattern that would lead to the production of enough volumes to warrant investment into processing and value addition.

Meanwhile, cotton is grown across approximately two-thirds of Uganda’s land area, either as a monoculture or intercropped with food crops, providing a source of income, food security, employment and raw materials.

The Cotton Development Organization (CDO) estimates that the cotton value chain employs a total of 2.5 million people, directly and indirectly, in the production and marketing of its primary products, such as textiles and garments, as well as its by-products, such as soap, edible oil and animal feed.

The scientists say that there is need to provide farmers with affordable finance to purchase the required quality inputs, tractor hire services to ease farm preparations, short-duration cotton and varieties with high ginning out turn, providing subsidy for production inputs, offering a competitive price for the seed cotton, and aggregating land through cooperatives or farmer organization for large scale centralized production.

Dr Kansiime said, “The path to prosperity is clearly marked by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2015). It requires transformative action, embracing the principles of sustainability and finding ways to increase the income and assets of rural people living in developing countries.

“Agriculture is the main driving force of rural economies (IFPRI, 2009), with great potential to strengthen livelihoods, provide nutritious foods for healthy wellbeing, revitalize rural and urban landscapes, and deliver inclusive and sustainable national growth.

“Therefore, there is no doubt that promoting enabling agricultural policies that improve incomes of the poor and the sources from which they draw their sustenance is a wise public investment.”

Furthermore, in respect of castor oil, the researchers argue that this crop has the potential to become important in drier and low rainfall areas of Uganda as it can be grown under drought and marginal soil conditions. With a global demand for castor oil expected to reach US $1.7 billion, there is a need for the government to create an enabling policy environment piggybacked on the favourable global trends.

Co-author Dr John Patrick K. Kagorora, added, “We recommend the Government to direct its new strategy to review and promote these crops especially with the current drive to diversify export earnings and save crucial foreign exchange through import substitution of some commodities.

“The call for diversification of farming activities is also particularly relevant as an adaptation strategy given the changing climatic conditions. This involves diversification to crops and varieties that are more resilient to climate stresses and deemed suitable to grow under future climatic conditions.”

Additional information

Main image: preparing the ground for kitchen gardens, Uganda (Credit: Janny Vos, CABI).

Working paper reference

Kagorora, J.P.K., Kansiime, M.K., Owuor, C. and Tumwine, J. (2021) A review of some aspects of Uganda’s crop agriculture: Challenges and opportunities for diversified sector output and food security. CABI Working Paper 26, 22 pp. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1079/CABICOMM-62-8161

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