Uganda's First Key to Prosperity: Agriculture
Thomas Jefferson once made this observation to George Washington: "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness." True, the Virginia planter may have indulged in some professional chauvinism with this statement, but he conveyed a timeless truth that is revealed even today, 225 years later. The ability to grow and raise food efficiently – first for subsistence, later for commerce – can form the genesis of economic progress. This holds true for individuals, families and nation-states. In fact, the initiatives of governments and non-governmental organizations alike demonstrate the consensus that a strong agricultural sector is the first step out of poverty. One need look no farther than the Republic of Uganda for evidence.
Farming is a hugely significant portion of the Ugandan economy in terms of gross domestic product, employment and exports. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 14 million hectares (34.5 million acres) of land is used or reserved for the raising of crops and livestock. The portion of the labor force working in agriculture exceeds 80 percent. Yet, while Uganda can boast of healthy exports of coffee, sugar and maize, the International Food Policy Research Institute still ranks the East African nation in “serious” condition on the Global Hunger Index. Fortunately, assistance is coming from several sources.
Closest to home, the Uganda government has only recently completed a five-year initiative to improve livestock husbandry in its “cattle corridor” – a swath of adjacent districts running from the northeast of Uganda to the southwest. The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries launched the National Livestock Productivity Improvement Project in 2004 to improve breeding results; aggressively prevent destructive diseases; ensure adequate supplies of potable water and healthy forage; and introduce updated marketing methods to farmers and ranchers.
Other governments are lending a hand. The United States Agency for International Development, for example, has devoted 19 million dollars in grant money for Ugandans to get more nutritional bang for the buck from their crops. Central to this effort is the application of the latest biotechnologies to small farms and those plants common to local diets: bananas, cassavas, maize and beans. Fortifying resistance to corrosive diseases and pests through breeding and topical repellents is essential to improving the farmers’ annual yields.
Not to be left out of the coalition to better Ugandan agriculture is the United Nations. Noting that domestic public investment in agriculture is modest, the UN Development Programme has included a more fruitful agricultural sector among its Uganda Millennium Development Goals. To this end, its personnel are holding workshops in every district of the country to educate leaders and policymakers on the economic advantages that follow from higher yields, healthier crops and robust marketing. The hope is that more generous allocations to farm assistance in future budgets will lead to better harvests and more income, thereby reducing hunger and poverty.
Yet governments and diplomatic forums are only part of the solution for rural Uganda. Some of the most impressive advances are coming out of religious groups and small non-profits. One such example is the partnership between Christian Reformed World Missions and the Pentecostal Assemblies of God – Uganda. The joint “Farming in Faith” project is teaching theological students in Mbale the nuts and bolts of dairy farm operations and management. The laboratory farm, in turn, has provided income for the seminary to operate and hire additional faculty, as well as provide for local needs.
The principle of agricultural entrepreneurship as a foundation for self-sustaining charities is not lost on Kyklou International. Partnering with the St. Mary Kevin Orphanage and Primary School, this non-profit investment group has raised funds and assembled a professional team to launch a unique micro-enterprise: SMK Farms. This pig farm – professionally designed by local agricultural scientists and managers – will provide financial means to the orphanage, as well as scholarships to its students who go on to secondary institutions and universities. Furthermore, the students will learn hands-on vocational skills that serve them and their future families well.
Public monies are in demand for numerous good works, but they are not always plentiful in the developing world. For this reason, organizations like KI and others are vital for an agricultural renaissance in Uganda and throughout Africa. They demonstrate how modest investments – well-placed and expertly managed – can provide a future and a hope for millions of people who have known neither.