Uganda Govít turns deaf ear to plight of small scale farmers





By  JOSEPH MITI  The Monitor Newspaper

Posted Wednesday, October 20 2010 at 00:00 at

“We will not eat to eat, but eat to work. If we don’t want to work, we will not eat. Eat every meal after working for four hours,” this is a heartening prayer, the Agriculture Minister Hope Mwesigye asked Ugandans to say each morning, as she wooed farmers to make an extra effort to double food production to avert hunger currently threatening 15 per cent of the country’s population at the commemoration of the World Food Day.

“Eradicating hunger is not the responsibility of government alone. It’s not a role of one person or organisation. It is a battle each one of us has to fight. The process should start with individuals, local governments, government and then all other stakeholders,” Mwesigye told a well attended function held at Mukono Zonal Agriculture Research Institute (Zardi). However, as the minister sweet-talked farmers to enhance food production, small scale farmers were complaining that the government has marginalised them. Mr Hakim Baliraine, Chairperson of Eastern and Southern African Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Uganda said, though small scale farmers contribute 80 to 90 per cent of food in the country, they are normally marginalised and denied to participation in regional, national and global policy processes.

“Hunger is not caused by nature, it’s a political imposition. It’s caused by bad policies, ruthless competition and disastrous mismanagement of resources,” Mr Baliraine, who was exhibiting local food at the function, said. His dissatisfactions were echoed by Ms Nancy Mugimba, ESAFF Country Coordinator, who also explained that the roots of hunger lies in unequal access and control of resources like land and water as well as sidelining small scale farmers. She said the situation is likely to worsen as governments in developing countries impose bad policies that limit providing support to small scale producers as advocated by IMF and the World Bank.

“We appeal to government to invest more on small scale food producers for food security and food sovereignty instead of embracing much effort to the big investors. We are already feeding a huge amount of people, using our smaller plots of land. So we are the best solution to hunger and poverty in the region,” Ms Mugimba said. Meanwhile, according a report, Invest in Small Holder Farmers released by ActionAid-Uganda this year, many small farmers working on an average plot of 1.7 acres, are missing out on government support though they produce 96 per cent of the food that passes through the market outlets in the country.

The report says though agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy accounting for 25 per cent of the national GDP, employs around 75 per cent of the labour force and provides the basis for livelihood of about 80 per cent of the rural poor, the government is yet to give enough support to the sector. Despite the fact that, Uganda has four million household farmers, vast arable land and natural resources enough to provide food for the entire nation, about 15 per cent of 32.7 million people go hungry or never reach their full potential due to stunting caused by inadequate nutrition. However, Mr Peter Lusembo, director of ZARDI, ruled out claims suggesting that Uganda is food insecure.

“The challenge Uganda is facing is not food unavailability but poor management of food resources. Many people prepare too much food they eventually put to waste,” he said. Like this year’s Wood Food Day theme goes, “United against hunger”, Mr Percy Misika, Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) Country Representative said, every living person is obliged to join the struggle to reduce chronic hunger, threatening one billion people worldwide. With Uganda rapid population growth, Mr Misika said, every year we are going to have more mouths to feed and food production will have to increase by 70 per cent.

Interestingly, although farming is the backbone for most African countries, Africa spends about $20b annually on food imports. 45 per cent of rice and 85 per cent of wheat consumed in Africa is imported. Worse still, many people in Africa spend about 50 to 60 per cent of their budget on food. Mr Baliraine suggested that government should adhere to the Maputo Declaration of 2003, which advocates for increasing the budget allocated to agriculture to at least 10 per cent of the national budget to revamp the sector. He also called for a deliberate effort that would see a large portion of the budget utilised on developmental activities rather than being used for allowances and transport.

However, the State Minister for Agriculture Aggrey Bagiire said increasing the agriculture budget to Shs310b in the 2010/2011 national budget from Shs279bn in the 2009/10, is a sign of government’s commitment to support the sector.

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