By William Kituuka
If one morning someone tells people in Uganda where about 89% of the population live in rural areas and 80% of them depend on subsistence agriculture, that he can buy commodity x readily at price y per kilogram, and the people judge the enterprise a viable undertaking, one would be surprised at the rate at which the people would shift to the new economic activity. In such an undertaking, the investor would not need land on his own, a part from where he may establish the technology development/demonstration (TDS) sites; which could be hosted by model farmers on their own fields. The National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) in Uganda has the information which shows that farmers can be very responsive to adoption of improved technologies and practices on TDS more so if there is one such technology development/demonstration site within three kilometers of the households.
In a country where more than 80% of the population survives on farming, it is right to fight poverty through agriculture, in that either the farmers produce more for the market and earn an income or they make savings from agriculture and invest in non-farm sectors.
In Uganda, the earnings from ‘traditional’ cash crops, that is Coffee, Tea, and Cotton have registered a steady decline, with the earnings from non- traditional agricultural exports becoming increasingly important, rising from US $35m in 1990/91, to US$ 147m in 1997/98. The consequence of this is that the ratio of Coffee receipts to non – traditional export earnings has been declining steadily. Five years prior to 2001, the ‘traditional’ cash crops that is Coffee, Tea, and Cotton accounted for an average of 60% of the total value of exports, a situation which has since changed from 2001 to 2004 where the three crops have accounted for an average of 30% of the total value of exports. And, because many farmers were depending on these for income, it is no surprise that they languish in poverty.
One of the non-traditional crops that has boosted the export revenue is Cut Flowers, which unfortunately is a monopoly of a few firms that can afford the investment, hence has little benefit to the population who long for a substitute to the Coffee and Cotton earnings.
As traditional crops became less valuable to the subsistence producers, other enterprises to the subsistence producers, other enterprises were introduced as viable undertakings. These include: Ginger, Vanilla, Sun Flower, Aleo vera and Moringa oleifera to mention a few. These in most instances have been campaigned for by individual interests with a promise of good market on harvesting. One interesting case is vanilla which became so popular more so after the Madagascar crop was affected by bad weather leading to lower outputs, hence Uganda taking up the opportunity to fill the deficit. This led to a boost of the price per kilogram of Vanilla which is recorded at ushs 150,000 one hundred fifty thousand per kg! hence inducing many people into vanilla production. However, the boom in price was not long lived, today many have cut down the crop, and others are maintaining it just to get some little income at whatever price buyers offer!
Moringa oleifera is a crop that has existed for some years in Uganda, but most people were ignorant about its medicinal and nutritional values. It so happened that in 2002 some people started campaigns countrywide to encourage the growing of Moringa. Seeds were procured from Tanzania and sold to people at very high prices. Moringa Leaf Powder was being extracted and sold to people at equally high prices given the nutritional and curative potential that was being preached. Today, the trend has greatly changed as many people who had gone into the growing of Moringa were after monetary returns and not using the crop as a nutritional one for households and animal feed. It is a fact many of the Moringa trees are either unattended to now or have been cut down!
Aleo vera had been encouraged so that farmers grow it as a medicinal plant that has good market value outside. It is clear that those who procured planting materials for this crop have equally been frustrated.
The problem with these undertakings is that the Government of Uganda claimed to have created a conducive environment to business undertakings, however, the enterprising public (Ugandans) are in many instances short of the requirements to venture into big export business with whatever is associated with it, hence the reason for failure.
Artemisia annua is a medicinal plant which is an anti malaria. It was introduced under experiment at Kyembogo District Agricultural Training and Information Centre (DATIC) as a new project with a potential to be grown commercially. Since November 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a shortfall in an Artimisinin based Combination Therapy (ACT) of an antimalarial, which combines Artemether + Lumefantrine used to treat Malaria. The production of the ACT is dependent on the delivery Artemisinin, a chemical plant substance extracted from Artemisia annua. On September 22nd 2005, Artemisia annua was launched/promoted among the farmers of Kabarole district. The point to drive home is that Artemisia annua is a plant on demand, and given the demonstration available at Kyembogo DATIC, this enterprise can duly be undertaken by farmers as an income crop that can bail them out of poverty.
In Mbarara district, farmers have taken on a new goat enterprise. This was promoted by NAADS in 2002. Farmers were trained in goat keeping and 150 Boer bucks (male goats) were distributed to 150 farmers’ groups in the sub – counties of Nyakashashara, Kinoni, Kabingo and Kashongi. The farmers in these areas who knew goats as a non paying venture today consider goat farming as one of the most profitable farming enterprises. While a local goat can be sold between shs 30,000 to 110,000, the crossed goat goes for not less than shs 300,000 while the pure breed is between shs 500,000 and 1,000,000 (as at 2006).
What is clear from the above background is that people need income and they have the land resource and are willing to learn a new technology in form of an agricultural or animal husbandry undertaking once they are sure of the market. This is a pointer to those who may have resources that can be invested in agricultural undertakings, that there are many people in Uganda with arable land who are dying for an income from those with resources and sure market but without the land resource where to implement the desired investments. People need demonstration gardens from where they can learn or experiment with the technology before applying it on their gardens.
An agricultural based investor to Uganda therefore need not bother about acquiring land to produce the enterprise of his or her own choice, instead he needs a focused market for the produce and a price offer to the farmers which according to them is a worthy return to their efforts to grow the enterprise he is interested in marketing.