Kampala — A cross-section of people in the agriculture sector told East African Business Week that 2013 was a relatively good year for farmers. This was especially true during the first season of planting compared to the same period the previous year.
Small scale farmers reaped bumper harvests, mostly due to the cool climate which favoured cereal crops.
"The performance of the sector changed in the second season. Farmers countrywide registered good harvests in the first season and that is why the prices of food items was not too high as compared to the year 2012, especially after the first crop planting season," Hakim Baliraine, the chairperson of the Eastern Africa Small-scale Farmers forum said last week.
He said farmers, including the many involved in small-scale agriculture also responded positively to the government's advice by using improved seeds. This gave them higher yields although many complained about these seeds being expensive on the local market.
Figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture show that in 2013 the sector grew by 1.4% an improvement from the 0.8%in the year 2011/2012. The change was mainly driven by the good performance of the cash crops sub-sector.
Coffee and cotton performed well as compared to recent years. Statistics show that in 2013, Uganda's overall, coffee exports surpassed targets, with 3.583 million 60-kilograme bags of coffee (compared to 2.726 million bags for FY 2011/12-, a 31% increase) . The value of the exports was $433 million compared to $392.7 in the 2011/12 season, a 10% increase.
Next to coffee in the cash crop sub-sector came cocoa which also performed well. This followed yet more government support to farmers. Among the notable efforts was distribution of about 1,230,471 cocoa seedlings. These were given out in the districts of Mukono, Mpigi, Wakiso, Luwero, Iganga, Mayuge, Jinja, Luuka, Kamuli, Hoima, Masindi, Kibale, Kamwenge and Bundibugyo.
Overall, exports increased from 17,935 metric tonnes in 2011/12 which earned the nation $52.7million to 19,430mt in 2012/13.
On the other hand, the cotton sub-sector was severely hurt due to the prolonged dry spells which hit the country during the crop's planting season.
According to a senior Ministry official, "The cotton sub-sector performed relatively lower than targeted due to drought in the early part of the growing season and excessive rains during harvesting. A total of 3,487 mt out of the targeted 4,000 delinted and graded seeds were produced; 2,950 out of targeted 3,000. Demonstration plots were established in the cotton growing districts. Overall, in the financial year, 102,619 bales of lint were purchased, against the target of 250,000."
As for food crops, the sub-sector did well, because of a steady improvement in the production of staple foods like cereals, including maize, millet and tuber crops such as potatoes and cassava.
This caused consumer prices to drop in most parts of the country although in other regions prolonged dry spells depressed food production.
Fisheries and Livestock achieved some progress, especially with dairy products. The total number of milk litres produced in the year increased to about 1.86 billion in 2013. The value of exports increased from $9.7 million in 2011 to $13.17 million in 2012.
This growth is also reflected in the number of certified road milk tankers going up from 129 in 2011 to 132 in 2012 according to the information available at the Ministry.
In the fisheries sector, although performance promising, it is still being hampered by over-fishing and as a direct result, the catching of immature fish.
The sector grew in value terms by by 2% in 2012/13 comared to 1.75 per cent in 2011/12.
Fish export volumes were 18,320 metric tonnes valued at US$ 108.614 million in 2012/2013 compared to 15,226 mt valued at $82.85 million in 2011/12 while regional fish trade was estimated at 40,000 mt valued at $120 million.
The export volumes were 18,320 metric tonnes valued at US$ 108.614 million in 2012/2013 with the European Union as the main destination of formal fish exports. The European Union accounted for 73% (in value terms) while the United States and the United Arab Emirates are the other export markets to note.
This is attributed to the increased surveillance and regulation by the Ministry. For one thing, stringent measures have been put in place to block export of immature fish.
In terms of innovations in the agriculture sector, Ugandan scientists especially crop breeders, managed to come up with new varieties of crops that are resistant to diseases and also to drought.
Scientists at the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute in Serere, eastern Uganda, started developing new millet varieties which can mature in a shorter period of time.
The scientists managed to develop and release two varieties of millet commonly known as Serere-1 and Serere-2 which are composite varieties and mature within 90 days and yield from 2000 to 2500 kilograms per hectare.
It is planned that by the end of 2014, the majority of the millet farmers in Uganda will be farming Serere millet varieties. The Institute has given out 30,000 kilogrammes of seeds to various seed companies to multiply for farmers.
At the various research centres, other scientists are working on new varieties of bananas, beans, rice and maize which farmers will later adopt to improve productivity.
The agriculture sector in Uganda has been poorly performing in previous years.
After realizing this, the government decided to come up with comprehensive interventions geared at improving things. This was crucial because the sector is the backbone of the economy.
The Ministry came up with the Development Strategy and Investment Plan (DSIP), 2010/11-2014/15. Objectives included an increase of incomes and livelihoods of rural households and to improve household food and nutrition security.
The immediate objectives are (i) Factor productivity (land, labour, capital) in crops, livestock and fisheries sustainably enhanced (ii) Markets for primary and secondary agricultural products within Uganda, the region and beyond.
Under DSIP, such programmes as the National Agriculture Advisory Services Phase Two and the Agriculture Technology and Agribusiness Advisory Services have been set up, all aimed at helping the government achieve the objectives of the National Development plan
Has Government achieved some of the objectives of DSIP? Since it was developed many farmer who talked to the EABW say that some objectives like access to market has been achieved through improved infrastructure like the community access roads
"We managed to market our produce both in the nearby town and across the country because the majority of the impassable community feeder roads in the country were worked on by the government. This helped farmers not to be cheated by the agribusiness people who tend to exploit farmers who cannot manage to trade their produce in bigger markets in the urban towns," Peter Mukunya, a farmer in Namutumba District Eastern Uganda said.
The International Fund for the Agriculture Development (IFAD) is paying for a massive feeder road repair project which is already underway.
Agriculture, like other sectors in the economy faced many challenges, particularly inadequate technical staff and access to financial support for farmers.
Agriculture extension workers are in very short supply.
Uganda, like many other countries in the East African Community, also experienced prolonged dry spells which disrupted farming output and some prices of items to rise sharply. An example is milk when during July 2013, a litre went up from Ush2000 to Ush2800.