Tomorrow, the conference for Korea-Uganda agriculture rural development partnership will be launched in Kampala and its implications for Uganda are profound and manifold in view of Korea's experience and the significance of agriculture for Uganda.
The fundamental of Uganda's economy lies in agriculture and rural development.
All indicators suggest that the real economic growth, income generation, wealth of the nation would depend, to a large degree, on enhanced productivity, value-addition, improved distribution and marketing of agricultural goods in Uganda.
The transformation of Uganda's economy would not be effectively attainable without the transformation in agriculture and rural sector especially given the vast majority of Ugandans living in rural areas and farming is their occupation.
Infrastructure, as much as it is essential for the economy, should be regarded as a means to facilitating the economic activity rather than an end in itself.
Building manufacturing industry is also crucial but considering Uganda's economic structure and comparative advantage areas, manufacture industry in Uganda has to be closely, if not directly, linked to agricultural sector in many instances. In case of oil, expectation management is called for, as oil is finite.
There is no way the Government or donors, can possibly have the capacity to sufficiently fund or bring about all the changes necessary for agricultural transformation. It could not be attained, let alone sustainable, without sense of goal, commitment and dedication of the local populace that can only be brought about by a considerable degree of mind-set change. Serious efforts to fight corruption and erect good governance must be made at the same time.
South Korea is the first and only country in the world to have successfully transformed itself from aid-recipient to donor status in such a short span of time. Per capita income of Korea was less than that of many African nations, including Uganda, in early 60s. Now, it is a member of the G-20, at one point becoming the 11th largest economy in the recent years, and having reached a total trade volume of one trillion dollars, ranking seventh in the world.
Like many countries in Africa, Korea had undergone foreign occupation and colonialism, mass poverty, civil war, heavy dependence on foreign aid. But it made the transformation and that transformation started in the agriculture and rural sector, with Saemaul Undong or the 'new village movement' as the driving force on a national scale. Its motto is 'diligence, self-help and cooperation'.
Villagers, local and regional leaders and government all collaborated but in essence, it was a grass-roots, bottom-up community movement.
With all the natural endowment and agricultural potential of Uganda, the true comparative advantage of Uganda should come from this area.
I disagree with the general characterisation that tends to view the reality of Uganda negatively. For instance, a very high population growth of about 3.5% and growing percentage of the youth in the population need not be seen as liabilities but rather as assets.
The population surge may pose immediate challenges now but at least in the longer run, it means abundance of labour force and the size of population is an important factor that can have direct and positive impact on the economic size (GDP) of a nation. Rather, low birth-rate and aging population with dwindling labour force that can be witnessed in many countries, including Korea, are causes of much concern for the nation's future.
It is out of such context that we are keenly interested in the possibility of community based cooperative, self-help style approach taking root and expanding in Uganda. Agriculture and rural transformation surely is a daunting task, and it should involve the efforts of all the stake holders, including development partners.
But it is with positive expectations that we are inaugurating the conference on agriculture and rural development partnership. Our goals are:
Mind-set change and capacity building
Improvement of production through technical know-how
Value addition and enhanced marketing. We hope that our efforts will also draw substantial private investments for the benefit of Ugandan locals and farmers.
Like Korea, Uganda can do it, all the more with all its vast potential. It is time to take concrete actions, so let's move on and do our best to achieve these goals.