Peasantry farming may never take people out of poverty. Something radical is happening; however, it is creating a new class of ‘town peasants’ who are retarding our economy.
The FAO report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013, reveals since the early 2000s, the prevalence of undernourishment in Uganda has been increasing and the country is unlikely to achieve the MDG hunger target by 2015. The upward trend in the prevalence of undernourishment is a result of the failure of growth in food production to keep up with population growth at more than 3.2 percent, one of the highest in the world.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) 2010 report, the share of the agricultural sector in Uganda’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined from 39.9 per cent in 2001/2002 to 23.7 per cent in 2008/2009. A 2012 report by Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) reveals despite the importance of the agriculture sector, agriculture output remains lowest in all sectors of the economy and far below at 0.9 per cent in 2010/11 compared to the National Development Plan target of 4.9 per cent.
Uganda has an estimated population of 35 million of which 19 per cent live and work in urban areas. By 2035, the population is projected at 68 million and will be 110 million by 2050, of which 50 per cent will be in urban areas. Where will the food to feed them come from? What should we start doing now?
Capitalist farmers with adversity
A new dawn has arrived. A lot of change is taking place in the countryside. The middle and high-end class are going back to the villages and buying off large chucks of land for commercial farming. The move is commendable except the peasants are not being compensated for their land. The move, although in line with Vision 2040, is not being properly implemented. Peasants are being bought off, given some little money and not helped to resettle. The end result is squatters and emergence of first-class beggars.
Those shrewd enough are moving to nearby towns. Welcome to the town peasants – the uneducated lot rushing to towns without any idea of survival in the town.
The trend is leading to sudden pressure on the existing town facilities and the resultant problems of unplanned population growth in town centres. Hoima town, for example, lacks facilities to meet the needs of its burgeoning population. The quality of majority the population in terms of level of education is poor. You have two extremes of people – the educated class running the best businesses in town and accounting for over 80% of the economic activities and the low-end class surviving by luck on the streets. As more peasants are bought out of their ancestral lands by the middle-class commercial agriculture investors, they are imigrating to the towns.
It is an ongoing trend as more professionals get into commercial agriculture and many others invest their retirement resources into the sector. The peasants want town life. They think it is affordable. They are not being told the truth. Once they get some little money from the sale of their bibanja, they move to towns and enjoy a short-lived good lifestyle until it lasts. Once the little money is finished, stark reality surfaces -- you must be earning to survive. With no job and anywhere to go to, they become a nuisance. These ‘town peasants’ are a time bomb waiting to go off. When the old people die, their daughters and sons divide the land which creates small plots of land. Majority of the youth sell them to buy boda bodas (motorcycles). Available information shows that over 300,000 motorcycles are bought every month in Uganda. Many of the ‘town peasants’ are motorcycle riders and are another problem. The problem here is that these people lack formal education and have no village to run to.
This unsettlement of people will be good in a very, very long time to come. However, in the near future, disaster is anticipated. People being unsettled are uneducated lot, experiencing a mid-life crisis. The responsible ministry must come in as soon as possible to arrest this situation. A clear policy for anyone who buys off land of a peasant farmer must be documented providing for, among others, payments over a period of time to avoid mismanagement, education of the peasant’s children and providing basic skills to the farmers in financial management as well as resettling them properly to avoid a sudden crisis to their livelihood.
Commercial farms need workers. Anyone who buys out a peasant of his land should build them a small house and keep them around as workers.
What is Uganda’s fort?
A 2012 World Bank report names Uganda as one of the few countries with fertile, uncultivated land. This land has capacity to reduce poverty and boost economic growth, create jobs and unleash shared prosperity in the country and region at large. However, a short distance out of Kampala, stark imbalances in living standards between the rich and poor become evident.
Andrew Rugasira, CEO Good African Coffee, observed: “Between Amuru, Nwoya, Lamwo, Bunyoro and Busoga districts alone, Uganda could feed east and central Africa, transform our people and have surplus. Why we don’t learn from other success stories is, I think, a testimony to a strategic subversion of what we know can empower our
people and emancipate them from poverty and ignorance... maybe I am being too cynical... perhaps that’s why there isn’t too much shouting.’’
The reality on ground is bad
Move to any supermarket, most foods are imports. Rice is from Pakistan, garlic from China, mangoes from Kenya, oranges and apples from South Africa. What plans do we have as a country for the 70 per cent of our people engaged in agriculture? How can the country continue importing the things we have competitive advantage to produce very well? It is a known fact that Uganda’s climate is one of the best for commercial farming as it is suitable for most kinds of crops. We want to focus on industrialization yet we lack skills and knowledge to run.
Why not empower people with better farming methods, improve household revenues, so that they may take their children to school, introduce value addition and then think of industrialization?
It is so puzzling. About 80 per cent of the labour force is rural-based yet 90 per cent of the production takes place in the urban areas. This presents a mismatch between the centres of economic activity and the location of labour. It is on this basis that experts say the rich should be allowed to take over land for commercial farming.
The future of Uganda is in agriculture. Whereas it may not be cost-effective for Uganda to sell manufactured products to Kenya, it has ready market at competitive rates for agricultural produce. There are lots of opportunities in South Sudan, eastern DRC, northern Kenya, Rwanda and northern Tanzania as they have unmet market for food. Uganda’s main export partners are Sudan (15 per cent) and Kenya (10 per cent) and small quantities to DRC, Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and UAE.
According to the International Development Association (IDA), countries where the share of agriculture in overall employment is large, broad-based growth in agricultural incomes stimulates growth in the overall economy, including the non-farm sectors selling to rural people.
Research has shown that every dollar of growth from agricultural products sold outside the local area in African countries leads to a second dollar of local rural growth from additional spending on services, local manufactures, construction materials, and prepared foods. The best strategy to employ all Ugandans is modernizing agriculture. There is need for bigger resource allocation in the sector.
About the author
Moses Kaketo is the Editor and General Manager for Summit Business Review Magazine, holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Uganda Management Institute, A professional diploma in marketing (CIM) and Bachelor’s degree in Education. He sees business in everything. He loves writing business news, reviews and analyses.