For the past eight years, I have been on a learning journey – for the large part dedicated to farming and agricultural systems in Uganda. Of course, I was born and raised in a farmer’ household. I therefore tend to think that this naturalized me into farmers’ daily realities. Recently, I have been thinking about Uganda’s demographic profile in relation to food security and employment opportunities in the country side. Uganda has the youngest population in the world presenting us challenges and opportunities in an equal measure.
Driven by very high fertility rate of nearly 7 children per woman, Uganda’s population is indeed on a surge. The annual population growth is at 3.2%. For example, in 1980 Uganda had 12.7 million people, in 2005, it pulled to 28.7 million- and in constant fertility scenario, by 2025, and Uganda will have 58.1 million inhabitants. By 2050, it will have 152.2 million people (See, Beatrice and Madsen, 2010). If as a country we don’t strategize early to turn the foregoing into an opportunity that comes with high quality and skilled population that can create wealth by driving innovations and markets, such high rate of population growth has potential to create strains on Uganda’s natural resources, including arable land, which in turn drives up poverty rate and threatens future gains in agriculture production and food security. Remember, Uganda has an area of 236,040 square kilometers (146,675 square miles) and a total land boundary of 2,698 kilometers (1,676 miles). This land size is a constant. How will this constant and not wholly arable land feed 152 million Ugandans in 2050? For starters, I wish to propose two interventions;
1.Support the entry of Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) into grand and large scale production: With the success of Wazalendo SACCO in the bag, UPDF has pedigree to partake mass production (and value addition) and contribute massively to food security in Uganda. Indeed from Byzantine times, the role of the armies in food production is a historic duty (constitutes human security): This is so because; food security is possibly the first line of comprehensive peace and security of any country. Countries like Russia don’t have food Siros, but rather keep food and cereal vaults that can feed the population for more than 10 years in an event of crisis. With successful entry of UPDF, we will no longer need World Food Program and other “armies of salvation” to feed Ugandans. The other important advantage is the infusion of the historical role of the Army in high end innovations. All over the World, armies have led agile innovations through their corporate military research strategies; from the most sophisticated planes, software and hardware engineering, geo engineering etc. For instance, Weather modification in the US was seen as a way to increase crop yields (and thus profits), and was kicked off by Project Cirrus, a “cooperative research investigation in cloud physics sponsored by the Signal Corps and the Office of Naval Research, in consultation with General Electric Company” (Stark, 1957: 702). By focusing on production, the UPDF cooperate with agencies like Uganda Industrial Research Institute, National Agriculture Research Organization etc to invest in innovations that can stimulate new farming knowledge, value addition and thus strengthen the position of Uganda agro-competitiveness in the region. The private sector, Uganda National Farmers Federation, The Parliament of Uganda and Executive should support the UPDF.
2.Move fast to harness Information Technology Dividend to promote agriculture. Uganda liberalized telecommunication sector thereby opening the market to both local and foreign investors. This bold step, coupled with the advent of mobile telephony, greatly improved telecommunications in the country. Internet usage is also growing rapidly (usage now at 3,2000,000 with a population of 33,000,000), 10,400,000 connected on mo mobile phones and 228 FM stations. These are huge platforms for horizontal and vertical information flow necessary to boost production and market efficiency. I have come across facebook pages of young urban farmers around Kampala using facebook platform to market eggs and vegetables. This is awesome. State agencies and private sector should accentuate this opportunity- the future of the sector lies in innovations of the young population. The digital divide in rural areas should be narrowed. Where rural electrification agency has succeeded, ICT centers should be established to provide real time information to farming communities and other chain actors. The private sector can take a leading role on this.
I will return next time with more suggestions.
Chief Executive Officer
Agency for Transformation
Re-imagining agricultural and environmental policy