New Vision (Kampala)

19 August 2006

Uganda: Agricultural Policy Flawed

opinion

Kampala — Next week, Parliament, which has for the past month, been working in committees on the 2006/7 budget, will resume plenary sessions. The opposition in Parliament looks forward to fulfilling its constitutional mandate and obligation to present to Parliament, but more importantly through the August House to the voter, alternative policies which we believe are better suited to lead this country out of chronic poverty, disease and ignorance - the hallmark of the NRM regime during its 20-year-rule.

We hope to show the world that the opposition has a better understanding of the issues of this country, that we are more compassionate about the plight of the 38% of Ugandans who have lived in abject poverty for the past 20 years because of poor, inconsistent and unresearched government policies.

In its policy statements for this financial year, the Goverment outlined its broad objectives as increasing household incomes, food security, gainful employment and promoting sustainable management of natural resources - very noble objectives, I would say, but so were those of the last financial year, which were listed as increased productivity in agriculture and food security, integrated support to farmer groups to ensure increased agricultural output, community information system and to strengthen meteorological services.

You might find it hard to believe, but while presenting this year's budget with its fresh list of objectives, there is no mention of or reference to last year's objectives and to what extent they have been achieved. The objectives of 2005/6 cost the tax payer sh148.85b, but there is no reference to them in the new plans, and now sh146.56b is required to fund new objectives. This is typical of the way the NRM operates. They merrily jump from one expensive project to the next, as from barter trade to liberalisation to the Government trading again through Tristar/AGOA, from liberalisation to cotton price control, from co-operatives to no co-operatives and back to co-operatives, without reference to the past!

I am amazed that after recording a miserable growth of just 0.4% in the agricultural sector during 2005/6, down from 4% during 2004/5, the Goverment has seen fit to reduce funding for the agricultural sector from 4% of the national budget that was appropriated last year, to 3% this year, and yet claim to be driving the Bonna Bagaggawale (wealth for all) programme. There is no way you can talk about "all" (Bonna), in Uganda, without including the 80% part of the population that thrives on agricultural activity. How, for instance, can the Goverment expect sh146.56b allocated to agriculture, this financial year, to achieve what sh148.85b failed to do last year, due to "financial constraints", according to the ministry's report?

With three million head of cattle, Botswana earns about $200m annually from export of beef and dairy products. Tanzania, with 12 million head of cattle earns Tzsh900m from the same trade while Kenya, boasting of 17 million head of cattle earns Ksh700m, annually. Uganda, on the other hand, with seven million head of cattle earns $0 from the sector, because the animals and their products are diseased and have hence been banned from international markets, including Rwanda, which used to import Uganda's milk. What is (not) happening in the Ministry of Agriculture is just the tip of the iceberg, wait until the shadow ministers of the better funded ministries present their cases. I assure you that the opposition is set to have a field day in Parliament - stay tuned.

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