José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) was in Uganda recently to exchange ideas with policy-makers on ways to ensure food security and reduce poverty in Uganda by supporting rural smallholders in the country’s agriculture sector. Below Business Vision shares some of his thoughts on the topic in this interview.
What issues have you agreed upon with the Government that FAO should prioritise in Uganda?
I had interesting and constructive meetings with Vice-President Edward Sekandi, as well as the ministers of water and environment; trade, industry and cooperatives, and agriculture. One thing on which we all agreed was that, for the agriculture sector to grow, there is a need to support small scale rural subsistence farmers as well as build bridges for those who want to go into commercial farming.
And how can you do that?
FAO already has a long history of cooperation with Uganda. We helped introduce Farmer Field Schools (FFS) in the country. In collaboration with Government’s research organisations we are promoting the use of new and disease-free, high-yielding seed varieties and planting materials
In our discussions with the Vice-President and other ministers, FAO agreed to further strengthen collaboration with the Government in increasing productivity of small-scale rural subsistence farmers as well as building the bridge for small-scale farmers who want to go into commercial farming; improving integrated watershed management, including small-scale irrigation, water harvesting and training in aquaculture; and supporting the building of viable cooperatives and producer organisations.
In order to improve the performance of small-scale and commercial farmers in the agriculture sector, FAO highlighted the importance of urgently starting the process of implementing the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. This process will involve both civil society and the private sector, because everyone needs to be in this together.
With these types of actions, I am confident that we can advance towards a food-secure Uganda. I look forward to coming back to Uganda and seeing the results of these efforts.
How do you rate Uganda in the area of food security?
This is not my first visit to Uganda. I have been here twice in the past and I am happy to note that Uganda’s agricultural performance has improved.
The main challenge ahead is making sure that men, women and children have access to what they need to be food secure: natural resources, technologies, decent jobs, and access to nutritious food that is already being produced. The unequal distribution of food presents pockets of food insecurity in some areas. Whereas some regions record sufficient quantities of food, other regions such as the Karamoja region are chronically under stress. Efforts therefore need to be made to ensure that nutritious food is well distributed and consumed in all the regions.
There are concerns that despite agriculture being a backbone of Uganda’s economy, the sector is underfunded. What is your view?
In a developing country like Uganda where most people derive their livelihoods from agriculture, investment in the sector should be a priority in national planning and spending. This will not only improve access to nutritious food, but also it will reduce rural poverty more than investment in any other single sector. It is important that Uganda continues its efforts to reach the 10% investment target in agriculture established in the Maputo Declaration.
Ten percent may seem like a lot in these tough economic times.
I know that like other developing countries Uganda has many needs. What is most important right now is the willingness and the effort being made to progressively increase the budgetary allocation because there is recognition that agriculture is very important to this country. The political commitment that the Government has already shown is essential for that.
Do you think Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are a solution to challenges of low productivity in Uganda?
FAO welcomes scientific and technological research that can help to improve or increase food production. GMOs are an option that needs to be explored and can contribute to food security. FAO supports a science-based evaluation system that would help to weigh the benefits and the risks of each GMO before it is incorporated into a food production system. At the global level, it is important that countries agree to standards and norms on GMOs, for instance with regards to food labeling for consumers.
But the decision of whether a country should adopt or not GMOs is not a decision that FAO can make, it is the responsibility of each government. FAO’s role is to support them, as requested, so they can make sound decisions and build capacities so that they are in position to regulate the use of GMOs if they decide to use it. We have worked with the Government of Uganda on this issue.
But are GMOs necessary?
As things stand now, there are many other technologies - conventional technologies – that have already been successful, but which poor farmers don’t even have access to. These are technologies that could lead to significant increases in food production.
But we cannot afford not to explore this possibility. Generally speaking, in the future, we will need all the resources we can make use of, and this may include GMOs, because we cannot be sure at this point in time what will happen with increasing temperatures and climate change.
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Nutritious food should be well distributed