Regrettably though, they specifically, and as stated in the series, decided to explore ways in which the OWC initiative has not worked and how they wish it will not work.
By Lt Gen Charles Angina
A local daily has in the past weeks generously dedicated some space to share their ‘evaluation' of the Operation Wealth Creation initiative. We appreciate the attention and awareness they have taken in publicising our work.
Regrettably though, they specifically, and as stated in the series, decided to explore ways in which the OWC initiative has not worked and how they wish it will not work. One needs to start by analysing the choice of location for undertaking their ‘evaluation'. In the estimation of the writers, Karamoja best fits the landscape in which to assess the success and impact of an agricultural intervention in its infancy.
Following closely at the heels of the Karamoja region series is a recent headline in the same daily quoted three district leaders to state that OWC had failed as a national intervention. All of which bears no truth.
Despite the negative connotations tagged to Karamoja by the writers, the region has made great strides since the end of the notorious cattle rustling, which many people had prophesised would never end.
That is now history. One of the people that greatly believed in the region and was prompted to serve it is the First Lady, Janet Museveni who offered her services to the region as its first minister. Credit must be given to her efforts to influencing the nomadic lifestyle of the local communities to engage in crop farming.
This would later be the foundation upon which OWC would build to enable households in the region to engage in commercial farming, despite being left behind by all the governments in terms of development since the colonial times.
We appreciate the World Food Programme Uganda country office which has also taken on the cause of Karamoja by purchasing their maize and investing over $2m in the purchase of their maize produce and construction of storage facilities. So the use of Karamoja as the worst case scenario of OWC intervention by this publication actually surprisingly turns out to be publicity of its success.
The newspaper's series that intended to shade OWC in a negative light should, therefore, serve as a moment of reckoning for areas that have enjoyed undisturbed tranquility. Leaders in better off areas/regions should be able to ask themselves if Karamoja has been able to embrace and show some results, no matter how unflattering, of how they have interacted with and partnered with OWC, how about their own people? It is a great success to see people with the worst climatic conditions in the country, least fertile land, that has for centuries relied only on cattle, take up hoes and plant beans and maize and show results for their work. No amount of negative publicity can dent the will and zeal of such people. The best solution is to continue supporting them rather than close the OWC shop and go home.
As military officers under the UPDF, we, therefore find ourselves in a similar situation and closely identify with the Karimojong. We acknowledge that we are not experts in the agriculture sector, but our passionate commitment to create change and achieve our mission outshines the desires of those that seek to dampen our spirits.
In the military, we regard such an assignment as ‘Military Operation Other Than War' (MOOTW). Similar approaches may be applied and resistance expected. But the God who has guided us under bombs and bullets will still guide us in accomplishing this just mission of fighting poverty at the household level and enabling our citizens to live better and economically meaningful lives.
The series identified procurement related issues such as quality of inputs, untimely deliveries, misallocation of inputs as the primary causes of the inability of agricultural interventions to have a higher impact. The writers also clearly state that these are the responsibility of National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) not OWC. But the conclusion is that even if OWC is not in charge of procurement, it shall still be charged and sentenced as being in charge of procurement of inputs and must be found guilty.
The verdict and intention from the onset of the writers was, therefore, to ‘find OWC guilty' at all costs even if it means manufacturing lies. Because had the intention of the series been credible, the investigation would have focused on questions such as: Did the targeted beneficiaries exist?
Did they receive the registered quantities? Were the requested inputs delivered? Among others. To shun these issues which are the primary mandate of OWC is an indication of deliberately misunderstanding and misrepresenting the whole concept of OWC for cheap gain.
The implementation of OWC is in four phases: 1) Initiation, 2) Stabilisation, 3) Consolidation, 4) Handover. Each of these taking five (5) years. The first phase(initiation) and which apparently whether knowingly or deliberately unknowingly that the writers undertook to ‘evaluate' is the phase that ran from 2013 to 2018, which as the title suggests, was aimed at introducing the concept and doing the preliminary setup for much bigger interventions at a later stage. One can't supersonically improve the impact of agriculture at a household level without first empowering and enabling the target population who are the people engaged in non-commercial farming with the requisite input and knowledge.
In this, therefore, the writers should have first acknowledged this as a success because people deep in the villages of Amudat in Karamoja know about OWC and its mandate, despite the attempted distortions of a few elite and anti-progress opposition elements. By inducing mass production through the engagement of the able but non-commercially active agricultural sector players, the nation will not only be able to constantly feed itself but also grow its export potential.
A notable example here is coffee. Between 2014 and 2018, a total of 172.77 million seedlings have been planted. And as such, Uganda has seen coffee production increase from four million bags in 2015 to 4.7 million bags last year. Which takes us to the second phase of the intervention. With any new mass intervention, there are always early adaptors and clearly, the coffee farmers are in such a category. Some areas may not have an early start but may catch up later with time as they witness what is happening in the successful places. Other success stories do exist in other crops where some farmers, courtesy of OWC intervention have gone from Zero farming to being community models.
Since the initiative started rolling out in 2014, 1,067,271,892 coffee seedlings have been ‘verifiably' distributed. Cumulatively, the number of tea seedlings that have been planted have grown from an average of 40 million in 2013/14 to 500 million as of June 2018. However, this publication did not want to commit some of their valuable newspaper space to how Uganda may be on the way to being the leading coffee exporter in the world in the next few years' courtesy of OWC interventions. This may be because they are not patriotic, or are only too happy to play to the tune of those who would want to see Uganda and Africa forever shackled by the chains of dependence such as George Solos' Open Society Initiative, whose desire to interfere in various nations' affairs using their wealth is well documented.
It is worth noting that Uganda experienced the highest value of arable land (land defined by Food Agricultural Organisation as land under temporary crops) in 2015 at 34.41%, just one year after rolling out of the OWC intervention.
This being the highest it has been since 1961 when it was recorded at 15.76%. The point here is that under the previous interventions alluded to in that publication, technocrats would connive with farmers to say that they had received inputs when in reality, there was no increase in acreage under cultivation yet the Government was pouring in money. This money would go in but there was no physical impact on the ground or in statistics. Under OWC, all that has since been made history in all ways.
Under the current phase (Stabilisation) a number of investments will be put in place at the regional level for the purpose of imparting value addition on the produce, as well as marketing and export promotion. This phase will see improved synergy among all government ministries, departments, and agencies in a bid to have interlinked development. Under the auspices of the Public Investment Management for Agro-industrialization(PIMA), MDAs are expected and will be seen working more closely with local governments in order to support identified priority areas.
The second aspect is the Presidential Initiative to promote Agro-Industrialisation for Local Economic Development (AGRI LED). This will see a number of installations set up in the region and rolled out to the rest of the country. The flagship of this initiative will be the creation of Regional Farm Service Centres(RFSCs). These will be one-stop centers for all agricultural related information, logistics and services at every level of the agricultural process. Services will include weather information, soil testing, land preparation, quality seed planting, and plant/animal care, harvesting, post-harvesting, value addition, marketing and price information.
These initiatives will incorporate decentralisation of decision making feasible for all the unfunded priorities to be achieved under the new paradigm shift where grassroots issues will be incorporated. All this is currently being piloted in the Rwenzori region and will later be rolled out to other regions. The next financial year is going to witness tremendous transformation in Rwenzori and other areas. We encourage all well-meaning Ugandans and leaders at various levels and development partners to take time and invest in understanding how the PIMA and AGRI-LED initiatives work, if possible by visiting the Rwenzori region rather than relying on ill-intentioned hearsays.
Under Agri-LED, which emphasizes customized solutions at a regional level than interventions that indiscriminately encompass the whole country, Karamoja region will see tremendous development of its diverse mining sector that's composed of gold, marble, platinum, lead, lithium among others. In addition to minerals, tourism in cultural lifestyle and Kidepo national park give Karamoja a comparative advantage for non-agriculture development opportunities.
To enhance their agricultural capacity, OWC has introduced improved breeds to the area and despite the onset challenges, this aspect will recover. An irrigation scheme centred on the Kubebe dam, which is the largest in the region will be used to harvest runoff water from Mt Moroto. Lake Opeta, River Awoja, and Lake Kyoga will all be tapped into to provide water for irrigation as part of the national irrigation masterplan.
Finally, OWC would not have gotten where it is since its inception five years ago without the tireless and selfless commitment of our valiant officers who have committed their time to champion agricultural transformation in Uganda even in the face of all kinds of attempts by unsuccessful detractors.
We are also heavily indebted and thankful to His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni for the trust and support he has put in us to implement this landmark initiative. And as he noted during the recent State of the Nation Address, Uganda has a very high potential for growth. We just need to be better organized and focused on the distribution of better seedlings, better harvesting, post-harvesting methods, and storage. We also thank the Almighty God for all the blessings he has bestowed upon this country.
For God and My Country
The Writer is the Deputy Chief Coordinator, Operation Wealth Creation