By Watuwa Timbiti
For years now, Uganda has been referred to as the food basket of the east and central African region. Ironically, today, the country is among the many in the world that are grappling with consistent food insecurity and nutritional defi ciency.
A significant percentage of Uganda’s population still suffers from hunger and a substantial percentage of those who can access food get that which is largely deficient of vital nutrient.
Where are the loopholes?
The agriculture ministry attributes the problem to poor post-harvest handling, resulting in losses.
Agriculture state minister Prof. Mijumbi Nyiira observes that there is an unmistakable relationship between proper harvesting and food security as well as nutrition. He made the remarks while addressing the media recently at the Uganda Media Centre on the post-harvest food sector in Uganda at 50 years.
“Food security is a constitutional matter for the Government. A country or a government should not only ensure food security by producing enough, but should equally pursue nutrition security,” he adds.
In a report Nyiira presented on behalf of the agriculture minister, Tress Bucyanayandi, the post-harvest system comprises interconnected activities from the time of harvest through crop processing, marketing and food preparation to consumption.
Presently, according to the report, Uganda processes a low percentage of its agricultural produce. “Perishable farm produce are wasted or sold at give-away prices due to inadequate post-harvest facilities and lack of effective processing or preservation techniques,” the report says.
“Post-harvest losses in Uganda are estimated at between 5% and 15% for cereals and legumes, 20%-25% for root and tubers and over 35% for fruits and vegetables,” the report adds.
The losses occur along the chain from the farm to fork, resulting in higher food prices and lost revenue for producers and consumers. Losses, according to the report, are two-dimensional – losses in quantity (weight or volume) and quality (altered physical conditions).
The losses are attributed to improper handling or bio-deterioration by microorganisms, insects, rodents or birds. Subsequently, the losses damage the nutritional value of food and have adverse health effects on the consumers.
Poor grain storage results in growth of mycotoxin–producing moulds, such as aspergillus fl avus, which produces afl atoxin, a toxin that can damage the liver and may lead to liver cancer.
“Ingesting afl atoxin, while infected with HIV/AIDS or malaria, may lead to lower productivity, premature death and increased susceptibility to other fatal diseases,” the report warns.
Poultry farming has gained popularity over the years
Livestock production, according to the report, contributes between 5.2% and 12.7% of Uganda’s total GDP. “Livestock production has continued to grow at a rate of over 4% annually in response to the increasing demand for milk and meat in the local market,” the report observes.
In spite of this growth, one of the long standing challenges of the beef sector is lack of modern abattoirs that comply with international standards.
This, the report states, does not only discourage local consumption of beef products, but also limits the sector’s
combativeness on the global market.
The fishing industry
The fish sector has grown due to the various efforts that have been taken to improve aquaculture.
The report, however, observes that fi sh is highly perishable during harvesting – it has a shelf life of not more than 14 days when chilled. Much of the loss occurs at the landing sites, resulting in 40% fi sh rejections.
The rejections, the report argues, can be reduced to 3% if proper handling facilities are set up between landing sites and processing centres.
The production of coffee, for example, increased from 117,000 tonnes in 1961-62 to 161,000 in 1966. Cotton production increased from 181,000 bales in 1962 to 427,000 bales in 1967. There was also diversification to other sectors of production.
For example, production of sugar rose from 91,000 tonnes in 1962 to 135,000 tonnes in 1967. These fi gures cut across all major crops. Every thing was good in the fi rst 10 years of independence.
When Idi Amin took over, agriculture was not spared by the chaos in the country. Production of allmajor cash crops dropped.
For example, while 159,000 tonnes of coffee were produced in 1970, production fell to 123,000 tonnes in 1975 and further to just 47,000 tonnes in 1978. This indicated a drop of more than 100% in just seven years.
In 1970, 144,000 tonnes of sugar were produced, however the fi gure dropped to around a mere 8.3 tonnes in 1978. Cotton production dropped from 76,300 tonnes to a mere 14,500 tonnes by 1978. The drop cut across the board.
Flowers also became a major export crop for Uganda in the late 90s. The floriculture sector is one of Uganda’s top 10 foreign exchange earners contributing close to $30m (about sh75b) in export revenue at the moment.
The sector has grown from a single 2 hectares farm in 1992 to 20 farms covering 192.1 hectares in 2009. Investment in the sector stands at over $54m employing more than 6,000 people (UIA, 2009). The sector produces over 40 varieties mainly – roses (70%), chrysanthemum cuttings (25%) and potted plants (5%).
The main flower growing areas in Uganda are in the central region around the Lake Victoria basin – in districts such as Mpigi, Mukono and Wakiso.
Other flower growing areas are in south western Uganda – Ntungamo district and Kapchorwa district in eastern Uganda. The volumes and value of the fl ower exports have grown from 3,000 tonnes worth $14.61m (about sh35.5b) in 2000 to 5,349 tonnes worth an estimated $29m (about sh72.5b) in 2008.
The escalating growth trends in fl ower exports have positioned Uganda among the top five largest exporters of fl owers in Africa.
Interventions since 1962
From 1962 to 1990, the Government came up with various interventions to minimise losses. For instance, handling and storage of cash crops such as cotton and coffee, was done by co-operative societies.
Additionally, marketing boards such as Produce Marketing Board and Lint Marketing Board were established with silos in regional locations for proper storage.
Over time, the report observes, the marketing monopolies of these boards were removed – they were replaced by regulatory and promotional bodies like Cotton Development Authority and the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, with private sector representation on their boards.
About 10 years ago, the warehousing system was introduced – the system encourages adoption of improved storage facilities. It also insists on the adoption of grades and standards for stored grains.
Under this system, according to the report, receipting was established to boost crop yields and negotiable instruments that are sold, swapped and used as collateral to support borrowing.
Currently, there are six registered warehouses spread across the country under the Uganda Commodity Exchange.
Subsequently, the World Food Programme through its “Purchase for Progress” initiative is already procuring some of its grain requirements through the warehousing system.
Notably, government policies over the years have aimed at supporting the post-harvest sector in order to position the private sector as the engine of economic growth.
For example, since the liberalisation of marketing of agricultural outputs in the 1990s, the report says market forces have set prices.
Additionally, fish processors are now organised under the umbrella of the Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association, established in 1993 to ensure standards are met.
For the honey sector, it is organised under TUNADO, which was established in 2003 to bring together all actors in the apiculture sector and provide technical expertise.
Currently, according to the report, honey production is at 100,000 tonnes per annum, but could be increased to 500,000 tonnes if the national potential is properly exploited with proper harvesting practices.
The Government in collaboration with its partners is re-aligning its intervention strategies to focus on systematic interventions that improve the efficiency of the chain as a whole, rather than the disjointed, single-point interventions of the past.
“Since cooperatives are relevant to agricultural marketing, the Government is encouraging the formation of SACCOS, where farmers are encouraged to save and then the Government assists them with loans on the basis of what they have saved,” says Nyiira.
According to the report, modern practices are needed to ensure high quality production – research institutions must continue producing improved seeds, although the mode of distribution to the farmers has remained a problem.
The sector, according to Nyiira, is still dependent on the weather patterns. “So if there is no rain, there is not enough food for the population,” he observes.
To ensure food security, he advises, there must be sustainable availability of water, for instance, for irrigation. Therefore, embracing water harnessing is the way to go. Nyiira also says the soils have been exhausted over the years. Fertilisers, therefore, should be part of the production chain.
Whereas mechanisation is ideal, he says it is too costly for the government to scale it out to almost every farmer.
Lastly, for total food security, food quality and low post-harvest losses to be achieved, Nyiira says farmers must be motivated with a ready market and proper pricing.
For example, most farmers make losses in sales during the bumper harvest because prices are low.
They should be sensitised on good storage practices and also to sell their produce in times of scarcity, when the prices are high.
Unless prices are stabilised, food insecurity, according to Nyiira, will remain a problem in Uganda because farmers will continue selling to regional markets, where prices are high.
He, however, advises farmers to consider value addition such as milling maize into fl our as a way of boosting income instead of rushing to regional markets.
Agriculture sector: the gains and gaps after 50 years