ACTION LEADERSHIP: Transforming family farming to boost the economy

A GLOFORD Uganda supported woman threshes soy beans in her rural home. Photo Courtesy - GLOFORD Uganda.

By Morris Chris Ongom

WELCOME BACK from Easter global family. Jesus Christ our Messiah is Risen! It’s so refreshing to us who believe in Him. Celebrate this unique Easter with hope to continue with our Kingdom conquest against dark rulership of Satan.

We all continue to thank the Lord for His continued guidance to our leadership and medical teams across the nation as we combat COVID-19.

Author: Mr Morris Chris Ongom. File photo.

Bravo to all action leaders on the front-line right from the family institution to the State House of Uganda. It’s a godly news to see COVID-19 recoveries and now Uganda is counting less COVID-19 cases; to God be the Glory.

I join the different leaders and scholars across the world to add to the body of knowledge as we grapple with the short, medium term and long-term effects of COVID-19.

Let me now address myself to the topic of family farming (FF) and smallholder farming (SHF), particularly in Uganda.

Let’s first start by briefly reviewing the performance of the agricultural sector to Uganda’s economic leap forward.  According to Ministry of Agriculture, Animal industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), agriculture remains the backbone of Uganda’s economy.

In fiscal year 2012/13, the sector accounted for 25.3 percent of the country’s GDP from 24.7 percent in previous fiscal year 2010/11. It employed about 72 percent of the total labour force (formal and informal), 77 percent of whom were women, and 63 percent are youth, mostly residing in the rural areas.

Over the life of National Development Plan one (NDP I) period, the sector registered sluggish growth from 1.0 percent in fiscal year 2010/11, to 1.33 percent during fiscal year 2013/14. The ministry argues that farming is still dominated by smallholder farmers engaged in food and cash crops, horticulture, fishing and livestock farming.

The sector’s strength is leveraged through, among others, the National Agricultural Policy (NAP) 2013 which set a solid framework to guide investment and delivery of agricultural services. Of the working population, about 65 percent engage in agriculture, forestry and fishing, Agriculture contributes 36 percent to the employment sector, Agriculture contributed about 25 percent, to the total GDP in 2016/17.

The World Bank, in their overview report for Uganda (March 2020), reported that in October 2019, Uganda’s economic structure was significantly changed following a rebasing of the national accounts, resulting into a significant change in the structure of the economy.

The revision of the base year from fiscal year 09/10 to fiscal year 16/17 and inclusion of activities that were previously missing, meant the economy was 21 percent larger during the last 10 years and by fiscal year 18/19, with a share of industry in gross domestic product (GDP) of 30 percent, much larger than the previous estimate of 20 percent.

This increase was largely driven by manufacturing, for which the share doubled from about 8 percent to over 16 percent of GDP. The share of services declined from 58 percent to 46 percent of GDP, while agriculture rose from 22 percent to 24 percent of GDP.

The World Bank argues further that about 700,000 young people reach working age every year in Uganda, yet only 75,000 jobs are created per year. This leaves more than 70 percent of Ugandans employed in agriculture, mainly on a subsistence basis. An average of one million young people is expected to reach working age between 2030 – 2040.  

Agriculture has continued to play a critical role in the development of the country

From 1992 to 2013, the percentage of Ugandan households living in poverty was halved, but vulnerability to external shocks remains high; for every three Ugandans who get out of poverty, two fall back in to poverty.

Accordingly, all Uganda’s regions registered an increase in the number of poor persons with the notable exception of the Northern region, which is the poorest, and where poverty decreased from 44% to 33%.

How can we transform agriculture through family farming approach?

The Food and Agricultural organization (FAO), United Nations among many other global and local partners are creating much understanding of the global leaders and populace on the unique role of family farming (FF) to the economic development of nations. FAO, 2019 reported that supporting family farming (FF) offers a unique opportunity to meet the needs of future generations while ensuring that no one is left behind.

Globally, family farmers are widely recognized as key actors towards achieving food security, poverty reduction and environmental preservation if supported by an enabling policy environment.

However, to play a key role in the establishment of sustainable food systems, FF needs an enabling policy environment that turns its whole potential into reality and tackles current challenges.

Available literature indicate that rural women are essential to the success of FF and rural families, as they contribute to farming with their labor and knowledge of agricultural practices and biodiversity. Women engage in on-farm and off-farm activities to ensure their families’ food security and to diversify income sources.

Global key facts and figures about family farming:

Source, FAO

  • Family farmers produce about 80 percent of the world’s food value
  • Almost 80 percent of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas, mostly depending on agriculture production for their subsistence
  • Ninety-five percent of the rural poor live in East Asia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Most of the rural poor are small-scale family food producers who depend on agriculture and aquaculture for their food and income but face many difficulties accessing productive resources, opportunities and markets.
  • These small-scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities are particularly at risk from disasters and crises (natural and/or human-induced) that destroy or damage harvests, equipment, supplies, livestock, seeds, crops and stored food (FAO, 2017)
  • Family Farming is by far the most prevalent form of agriculture in the world, with over 90 percent of all farms – more than 500 million – run by families (FAO, SOFA 2014)
  • Family Farming is the largest employer worldwide
  • Family Farming also contributes to local market development, community level cooperation, resilience, and global domestic products as well as preserving and enhancing local traditions, heritage and food systems, community ecosystems and rural landscapes.

Why Uganda and our leadership must work with and, support family farming in Uganda

It’s prudent that I share with you about what FF is. Family farming (FF) is a mode of agricultural, forestry, fisheries, livestock and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labor, including both women and men. The family and the farm are linked, co-evolve and combine economic, environmental, social and cultural functions” (FAO, 2014). It has been defined as a way of life.

An old female farmer threshes her soy beans. A GLOFORD Uganda photo.

1. In Uganda smallholder farmers/family farmers account for over 60% of country’s agricultural sector and as a group it is resilient, ready and willing to be led to help Uganda to be food secure.  

2. For an average Ugandan smallholder farmer with less than a hectare of farm land, he/she cannot make a comfortable living unless the entire agricultural sector (crops, cereal, livestock, horticulture, fruit trees, fishery, forestry, etc.) is commercially open for diversified income source.

3. Medieval farming methods must be replaced with introduction of appropriate and affordable technologies for the farmer to leapfrog to 21st century. If a farmer can learn to use mobile phone, can learn to apply appropriate technologies to all sorts of farming. Do not underestimate a farmer’s capacity to learn in spite of education level. Our extension services must be revolutionized and upscaled. 

4. Domestic as well as regional markets are underserved by depressing local economies.  Energized smallholder farmers can be the social and economic drivers.

5. Agricultural sector growth cannot be fully achieved without FF being given a strategic role in the value chains.

6. Farmers’ organizations with servant-leaders can play a constructive role in strengthening Uganda food security through strengthened FF systems.

7. Access to appropriate technologies, quality inputs, affordable financing, climate resilient water management and rural infrastructure development are key ingredients for smallholder farmers/FF to play their pivotal roles in Uganda’s and global economy.

8. Uganda should avoid falling into cheap imports, crushing the aspiration of FF/smallholder farmers. The cheap imports are not encouraging the growth of the next generation of indigenous farmers.

It will take policy shifts by the government of Uganda (GoU), development partners and action leaders on the front-line to mobilize and position family farmers to transform the work FF do. As we struggle to respond to COVID 19, the FF are in the field.

But with more than 68% of them not in the cash economy, the government at central and local levels must reconsider investing in FF to boost production, support agro-industrialization; put money in the hands of FF as well as increase the functionality of the FF as economic agents.

Since they don’t have access to quality seeds, their aspirations must be bolstered, tactfully and strategically. This way, we can save our economy and spur unimaginable and unprecedented economic growth in this country. 

As GLOFORD Uganda, we are co-investing with GoU and Viable USA to position 2,500 family farmers in Lira, Kole, Alebtong and Oyam to invest at least 5,000 acres of soy beans annually. This is a modest contribution to kick start them for Commercial Farming for Rural Development as we continue poverty reduction through rural agricultural transformation.

God bless us all. My Country, My Duty

For God and My Country

The writer is an economist and CEO of Global Forum for Development (GLOFORD) Uganda, and;

Board Chairman, GLCSMS LLC & TND News

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