Uganda has one of the world’s most fertile soil with the possibility of harvesting several times a year. And yet, millions are starving.
“One of the longest conflicts in Africa”. That is how the 20 year long fight between the government and the rebel movement Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is described. LRA is a paramilitary group that ravaged especially Northern Uganda. LRA is notoriously known for violating human rights, committing murders, kidnappings, mutilations, sexual slavery of children and women, and forcing children to become soldiers in the rebel army.
Three years ago the LRA’s troops fled into the mountains of Congo, where after the child soldiers were granted amnesty to go home and the refugee camps in the North were finally left. In these years of anxiety, the knowledge on agricultural practices have vanished. Even though the soil is fertile, the harvest is sparse and people are starving. The unemployment rate is high and many have nothing but a piece of land. Land, they do not cultivate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on agriculture and poverty in Uganda:
Agriculture is the predominant economic activity in Uganda and is very central to the country’s potential development. Agriculture employs approximately 79% of the population. As such, the economic growth and fight against poverty are closely linked to growth in the agricultural sector. Agriculture plays a central role in the Ugandan population and development. More than 90% of the population lives in the rural areas and are more or less dependent on the agricultural production.
Agriculture makes up nearly half of GDP and more than 90% of the income from exports. There are a few large tea- and sugar farms, but the majority of production is located at small, family-based farms. In 1996, more than 94% of the total agricultural production took place at small-scale farms. There are about 3M small family-based farms of which the majority cultivates no more than a couple of hectares. The agricultural production is very low-tech, based on few inputs and the family as the primary source of labor.
The soil is mainly processed with picks. Plowing with studs is not very common. According to farmers, they pity that the animals have to work hard. Tractors are rare and most are too old or too worn down to be able to pull a plougue. Cultivation of the land is purely based on rainfall, which usually comes during two month long periods of the year. But when the rain is overdue or completely absent, it has a disastrous consequences for the individual family and the food supply of the country. Especially the Northeastern Uganda, which is already dry, is a very sensitive area, when the rain does not arrive.
Women play an important role in Ugandan agriculture.
Women make up 70% of the workforce in agriculture. The work division in small family-based farms is typically that the women do all the work in food production and half of the work in production of salable crops. The men also take part in the work with the salable crops. Often, they have the responsibility for the cattle and the sales of the family’s products. In reality, this has the implication that women often never see the money that should be a result of their efforts. According to estimates, women only receive two percent of the capitalized value of their work.
The bike is the most important means of transportation for the majority of Ugandan farmers, even for the transport of crops. This is yet another limitation of the women’s’ access to the market, since in many regions it is unthinkable for women to ride a bike.
During the unrest from 1970 to 1986, the agricultural production decreased drastically, but in the last 10-12 years, agriculture has had positive growth rates. The growth in agriculture is not caused by an increase in productivity, but on the contrary, a further involvement of lands and work force.
In total, the yields per unit area is about to reach the levels of the early 70’s. A further increase in agricultural production in Uganda can happen through the inclusion of new lands, by increasing productivity and by moving from low yield crops to high yield crops. It is still possible to include more lands for agricultural production in Uganda, since less than 40% is cultivated today. It has been calculated that up to 85% of the total Ugandan area could be cultivated. However, it is assumed that it is the most fertile land that is already in cultivation.