"What we realised from the ministry is that not many things are being done and they are not coming up with new plans."
KAMPALA - Parliament's committee on agriculture has asked the ministry of agriculture to improve its performance, saying despite agriculture being the backbone of Uganda's economy, there has not been many fruitful activities coming out of the ministry.
Lowila Oketayot, the chairperson of the committee, said not much was being done to transform agriculture.
The committee was meeting top officials from the ministry led by the minister for agriculture, animal industry and fisheries Vincent Ssempijja to discuss the state of the sector.
"What we realised from the ministry is that not many things are being done and they are not coming up with new plans. It is business as usual. The ministry gets 3% of the national budget. Small as the money is, they are not showing good performance for it and they are not demanding for more," Oketayot observed.
"The budget performance is poor. We need to help them; there are many gaps that need to be covered. We are coming up with recommendations for the ministry and the government needs to do more to enhance the productivity of the sector," she added.
Prof. Morris Ogenga Latigo (MP for Agago) noted that Uganda's Vision 2040 talks of setting up an agriculture bank to offer loans at low interest rates to farmers.
"The minister has not mentioned anything to do with the bank which is needed urgently. Many ministries don't want to offend the ministry of finance by raising issues not put in the budget. They fear they will end up in a fight with the ministry of finance and their budgets get cut further," said Latigo.
He said politicians are not constrained to speak about the agriculture bank and they want it planned and implemented.
The former Leader of Opposition in parliament criticised the government for paying lipservice to the issue of raising the quantities of coffee produced from the current four million bags a year to 20 million bags a year within four years.
"They are not serious. It is unrealistic. We have never been able to increase even 500, 000 bags a year. The income disparities between the rural areas and urban areas are increasing. This can lead to political chaos."
Henry Ngabirano, managing director Uganda Coffee Development Authority, noted that the government set a target of increasing coffee production while making many assumptions.
He said the assumptions include the fact that there will be enough water for production including irrigation, fertilisers will be available, there will be no diseases, the climate change will not be adverse, and there are high yields and seeds distributed.
"Some of the assumptions are not achieveable. We can get at least six million bags a year."
And his argument is that to increase coffee production more coffee has to be grown, water supply has to increase, giving seeds to the right people who want them and doing the right things in the coffee sector.
On his part, minister Ssempijja promised that the way business was run at the ministry would change.
He said the target of producing 20 million bags of coffee per year is still achievable with irrigation, increased use of fertilisers and managing disease.
The minister said the government is slowly nurturing the agriculture bank using the Uganda Development Bank. Agriculture credit finance Is also being developed through commercial banks where loans are being given at low interest rates of 10% compared to the others at 20%.
"The ministry has got some improved funding. Money is never enough but we shall make the best use of what we have received."
On cotton, Ssempijja admitted production is still low and the low rate cannot attract big investors to set up ginneries, spinning mills where investors will come to make clothes and textile products.
The minister underlined that the production trends of major agricultural commodities have been positive for cocoa beans, coffee, tea, maize and milk.
"The trend in earnings from agricultural exports has been volatile due to fluctuating prices in the international markets. Farmers have struggled under the effects of climate change due to over reliance on rain fed agriculture.
"There is great potential to harness the available water for irrigation. There has been low uptake of agriculture technologies which affected production and productivity."
The level of agricultural mechanization in Uganda remains low and the agriculture extension system is understaffed, he added.