By Prof. Semakula Kiwanuka
AGRICULTURE is still a vital sector in the economy of Uganda and Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) because of its contribution to economic growth as a factor, as a product, as a market as well as a source of employment.
The historical experience of today’s developed countries is that they had a vibrant agricultural sector which occurred contemporaneously as the industrial revolution in the UK.
The agricultural revolution produced not only food for the growing urban industrial populations but also products for the expanding industries. In a recent article (NV 28/08/2013) Professor James Tumusiime Mutebile emphasised agricultural modernization, population planning and private investment.
In this article however, I shall address only one aspect, namely agriculture modernization including the critical question of the type of farmer who is best suited to drive the modernization of agriculture.
WHY THE FIRST GREEN REVOLUTION BYPASSED AFRICA
African agriculture was described an engine that stalled because after the first decade of independence (1955-1965) when governments laid emphasis not only on industry but also on agriculture, SSA was engulfed in political instability caused by military regimes and dictatorships.
Consequently governments which had thereto described agriculture as a vital sector for economic growth lost the vision and direction partly due to western country donor and World Bank conditionalities. What followed from the 1970s were policy failures which even led to the dismantling of public or government support of agriculture. During the 1970s,
The Green Revolution was launched and its impact in Asia was phenomenal because it revolutionized the food situation and the agricultural sector in general. But partly because of policy failures due to poor governance, The Green Revolution bypassed the African region.
The result was agricultural stagnation for many years. It was probably in recognition of that set back that The Agricultural Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was lunched. Financed by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, AGRA focuses on smallholder farmers to drive and modernize the sector.
MINIMAL IMPACT OF AGRA
Since AGRA’s introduction nearly 10 years ago, it is fair to ask what has AGRA achieved? What impact has it made on the SSA agricultural sector? Has African agriculture undergone any significant transformation? If not what are the hindrances and preconditions for success? To answer these questions, it is important for SSA governments to understand the constraints to agricultural modernization and transformation.
Unless these constraints are understood and purposely addressed, AGRA will only make limited impact as is evidenced by the unflattering current picture where SSA has; the lowest fertilizer use, the lowest technological inputs. The sector is dominated by peasant-scattered farmers on small pieces of land and it is characterized by high illiteracy among peasant farmers.
Furthermore SSA has the lowest use of extension services and the lowest percentages of cultivated land. In addition to that SSA has the poorest or lowest provision of rural and other critical infrastructures.
AGRICULTURE STAGNATION CONSTRAINS ECONOMIC GROWTH AND EXPORTS
Consequently SSA’s participation in the global value chain within the region and beyond is heavily constrained. These constraints do put a ceiling on productivity levels and on the efforts for economic transformation.
For this reason agricultural stagnation is still one of the root causes of SSA’s slow economic growth and the continued persistence of poverty.
Writing about economic growth, the celebrated economist and Nobel Lauriet, Sir Arthur Lewis observed more than 50 years ago that, “If one was asked for a single factor as the most common cause of low rates of economic growth it would have to be the absence of a vigorous economic policy. Agricultural stagnation is the main constraint”.
In a similar observation, The Swedish Economist, G. Mydral in his book, The Asian Drama: An inquiry into the Poverty of Nations, stated that:
The struggle for long-term economic development will be won or lost in Agriculture.
Other scholarly studies including those of the World Bank as well as FAO and IFAD etc have reached similar conclusions on the causes of agricultural stagnation. Another scholar, Professor A.T. Mosher identified ten preconditions that limit or accelerate agricultural development.
He divided them into what he called; Essentials and Accelerators. The five essentials, “without which agricultural development cannot take place”, are; markets, technology, production incentives, availability of local inputs and transportation (infrastructure). The Accelerators were in his view important but not essential.
These are:-Education, Production Credit, Group action by farmers, Land improvement and planning as well as national planning or government policies. Although Professor Mosher’s categorizations will by no means win universal acceptance the factors he listed are critical regardless of the order in which they are placed.
WHAT TYPE OF FARMER?
Unlike the manufacturing sector, agriculture is subject not only to environmental and ecological influences, but also to social and cultural factors. The latter have influence on the type of farmer. Thus a question which is repeatedly asked by specialists is who or which type of farmer will implement the agricultural revolution?
Professor Boserup like many others identified four types; the small farmer, the big farmer, the cooperative or private corporate farmer, the owner tenant or government. Because this vital question remains unresolved among policy makers, there are hardly any SSA country that has sustained an agricultural revolution.
The result is that SSA intra trade has remained low since the 1990s. Professor Mutebile like AGRA focused on the peasant or smallholder farmers. These conclusions are probably driven by the logic of numbers after all the population of peasants who are still on the land in SSA exceeds 60%.
RURAL INFRASTRUCTURES TO BOOST PRODUCTION AND THE SUPPLY SIDE
African leaders including President Yoweri Museveni, spent the 1990s demanding that developed countries should open their markets. Since then the markets have been opened in Europe, USA, China, Canada, India etc for African products.
But because the agricultural sector which would give SSA a competitive advantage is still under developed, SSA still exports unprocessed products despite the fact that demand side of the external markets is wide open. This is why there is urgency for a dynamic rural infrastructure development of transport, irrigation, electricity and extension services, warehouses, etc.
When combined, these infrastructures would boost the supply side of the sector. For example the provision of all weather roads would bring uncultivated land into cultivation which in turn would increase output and domestic sales as well as exports would increase because of cost decline in transport. The provision of electricity itself is a vital link and an enabler, between agriculture and industry.
But because the availability of electricity in SSA is still very low, agro processing and value addition are still equally low. Hence SSA including Uganda still export their products raw.
COMMERCIAL FARMING TO BOOST EXPORTS
Whereas it is generally agreed that an agricultural revolution in SSA is long overdue, there is no unanimity on policy issues such as the type of farmer who will produce a marketed surplus for food and industry.
AGRA believes that the small holder farmers should be the focus of government policies and there are examples to support that view such as coffee production in Uganda which is still sustainably grown by small holders.
But I support a contrary view that small holders and peasants are not the vehicle which will produce a huge agricultural marketed surplus for food, the market and industry. Without abandoning the small holder farmers in the short term, I join President Museveni and support commercial farming because it will massively increase production and boost exports.
It also has the advantage of producing entrepreneurs who have capacity for bulk production. It also brings pressure to bear on traditional land tenure systems and eventually breaking them down. I conclude with a quotation from an Oxford Professor, Keith Griffin who said; Agricultural commercialization and mechanization would no doubt lead to changes in crop patterns and in methods of production. It would also accelerate the development of a market oriented capitalists in the agricultural sector. It would hasten the demise of subsistence-oriented peasant farming and it would encourage the growth of wage labour.