TOP

Agriculture in 50 years: From hand-hoe to nontraditional cash crops

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th January 2011 12:18 PM

In Bar-Akalo in Kole district, Lango sub-region, Margaret Olwa remembers with fondness how despite using the hand hoe, her family never lacked food.

2011 1largeimg215 feb 2012 091806087 703x422

In Bar-Akalo in Kole district, Lango sub-region, Margaret Olwa remembers with fondness how despite using the hand hoe, her family never lacked food.

By David Mugabe

In Bar-Akalo in Kole district, Lango sub-region, Margaret Olwa remembers with fondness how despite using the hand hoe, her family never lacked food.

She remembers how, because of abundant harvests, it was common for people to offer foodstuffs to guests when they visited.

She says they used the hook shaped hand hoe for daily tillage. The strait blade hoe was mainly used for weeding, which was, until today, done in social groups. This was common even in Acholi, the West Nile and parts of eastern Uganda.

Mention the hand hoe and the ox plough and you are talking about Uganda’s agriculture in the last century.

Despite the changes in the practice and management of agriculture, the use of the hand hoe has not changed.

Discussing the general practice in the 1970s and 1980s, Olwa says the death of the granary is linked to the pseudo modernity, where the youth do not want to work the lands. They want the easy lifestyle of townships.
 

“They steal people’s foodstuffs from the granary at night. They even carry your cotton and simsim mounds that are hanged out to dry when they want money for alcohol. This began to scare off farmers from keeping food in the granary,” Olwa said.

“Chicken was the most common gift to visitors when they were leaving. Today, people wait for market days to sell off theirchicken and the little food they have harvested, leaving them with no food for tomorrow.”

Peasant agricultural production has been the predominant economic activity since pre-colonial times. Although there were patches of trade in ivory and animal hides, most Ugandans were subsistence farmers.

After declaring Uganda a protectorate in 1893, Britain pursued economic policies that drew Uganda into the world economy primarily to serve Britain’s late 19th century textile industry. Cotton growing, therefore, increased in importance after 1904.

Sir James Hayes Sadler, the then British commissioner, concluded that Uganda was unlikely to prove attractive to European settlers.

Even Sadler’s successor, Sir Hesketh Bell, had laid the foundations for a peasant economy by encouraging Africans to cultivate cotton, which had been introduced into the protectorate as a cash crop in 1904.

It was mainly because of the wealth derived from cotton that Uganda became independent of a grant-in-aid from the British Treasury in 1914.

This set the stage for the peasantry state of agriculture, which was to preoccupy Uganda up to independence.

In 1925, an official imperialist commission suggested that economic advance could only come with increased use of the hoe, and that it was the colonial government’s duty to develop agriculture efficiency in the native areas.

In the 1950s, coffee replaced cotton as the primary cash crop. Some plantations produced tea and sugar, but coffee remained the main cash crop.

Throughout the 1970s, political insecurity under the murderous Idi Amin regime, mismanagement and lack of adequate resources seriously eroded incomes from commercial agriculture.

In the late 1980s, agriculture contributed about two-thirds of Uganda’s GDP, 95% of export revenues, which was about 40% of government revenues.

About 20% of regular wage earners worked in commercial agricultural enterprises, and an additional 60% of the workforce earned some income from farming.

Despite a really subsistence practice in the sector, the country was able to remain fairly food secure, which was also helped by the small population then.

Fast forward to 2012, 50 years since Uganda broke from the shackle of colonial rule, the sector kind of stagnated.
However, a major positive shift for agriculture in the last three decades is the emergence of non-traditional cashcrops including fish, crafts and dairy products.

In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, it was common to see the famous Indian TATA lorry trucks from food producing upcountry towns labelled “Grow more Coffee” or “Grow more Cotton”. Not anymore.

Grace Sennoga, the trade promotion and public relations official at the Uganda Exports Promotion Board, explained that in the past, only traditional cash crops were marketed.

“It was later realised that nontraditional crops could also make money because we have many lakes and there is high demand for fish,” Sennoga said.

Uganda harbours about 60% of the arable land in the five states of East Africa, which is a key advantage backed by its favourable weather.

But why has this huge potential remained on paper?

Number one is little budget allocation, as a fraction of GDP to the sector that supports the livelihood of close to 80% of the population.

Until just over three months ago, budget allocation to agriculture was just 4.5%, which will now be increased to 7%.

This is still below the Maputo Declaration of 2003, which says African governments should allocate 10% of their national budgets to agriculture.

The little funding means agriculture is not attractive for lack of incentives, infrastructure and pricing.

The second challenge is the endemic corruption in the sector that ‘eats’ and wastes even the little that is allocated to it.

Programmes such as the National Agricultural Advisory Services have showed some gains but on a wider scale, agriculture is still unattractive and many practitioners remain poor.

The other is the low local scientific innovations that would provide appropriate technology.

Way forward
Addressing a regional summit in 2011, Harvard law don Prof. Juma Calestous, said Africa needs to innovate and invest in appropriate technology to counter the challenges of food security and climate change.

Alex Ariho of Pan Africa Agribusiness and Agro Industry Consortium Uganda says farming in Africa is normally left for those who did not go to school or those with little options for survival. Such people end up doing farming with limited knowledge, skills, capital and policy support locally and internationally.

“This leads to low production, poor quality and food insecurity, hence increasing food prices and inflation,” he noted.

Ariho said private sector capacity is indispensable in the agriculture value chain development and policy review and in the need to boost production and marketing.

Focus should be on critical areas such as agriculture insurance, credit facility and subsidisation options for agriculture trade and investments.

Agriculture in 50 years: From hand-hoe to nontraditional cash crops

Related Articles

More From The Author

Related articles