Agriculture is one of the most crucial sectors of the economy not only for Uganda but the entire African continent. Over the last decade or so, the sector has received new recognition as an enabler of inclusive economic growth and development.
Increased investment in the sector has been guided by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) - the unparalleled framework for agricultural transformation that has raised the political profile of the agricultural sector.
A number of countries have already domesticated the CAADP process through the development of their respective National Agriculture Investment Plans (NAIPs). We have recently started the process of formulating ours.
We are not doing this because we deem it fashionable, but rather in recognition of the fact that agriculture is key to securing our country's economic growth. It accounts for slightly more than 20 per cent of our GDP and close to 55 per cent of our total exports. From a labour perspective, the sector employs 72 per cent of our country's labour force with 43 per cent of Ugandans engaging in subsistence farming.
Over the last five years, our agricultural policy has been guided by our national development blue print; the Development Strategy and Investment Plan (DSIP). More recently, we have formulated the Agriculture Sector Strategic Plan (ASSP) to act as a road map for the development of our agricultural sector.
ASSP draws from the gains of DSIP which led to a 49 per cent growth in agricultural exports between 2010 and 2015. It seeks to widen community involvement in the transformation of agriculture from subsistence to commercial farming and will guide the country's agricultural policy as a medium term plan to the year 2020.
To achieve its objective, ASSP has been integrated into our vision 2040, under which agriculture is recognised as a major contributor to GDP and a key employer.
To enable the full realisation of the sector's potential, the government is rolling out Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) that seeks to leverage research and the application of technology towards the commercialisation of agriculture.
As a guiding policy, ASSP recognises that the transformation of the sector goes beyond the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries and calls for a multi-sectorial approach leveraging; infrastructure, finance, trade facilitation and land tenure as well as business regulation and standardisation.
Agronomy is at the core of what ails our agricultural sector. Years of over-cultivation have led to a steep decline in the country's soil fertility with a growing deficiency in nitrogen and phosphorus levels.
Bearing in mind that 43 per cent of the population relies on subsistence farming, the only viable remedy is enhancing access to inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, extension services, irrigation and mechanisation as envisioned under the Maputo declaration.
Uganda's input uptake compares decimally to the set standards. For instance, the average rate of fertiliser utilisation stands at 2.25kgs/ha compared to the Abuja Declaration target of an average of 50kgs/ha.
To enhance access to fertilisers, radical measures need to be taken going by the fact that 40 per cent of the cost of fertilisers is attributable to transport and port handling costs.
Close collaboration with our neighbours will be key as Uganda is a landlocked country making us reliant on neighbouring countries for both our export and import needs. To ease the cost of transport and access to fertiliser and other inputs, the government is scaling up investment in infrastructure and putting in place policies to ease access to finance.
To be fully effective, however, we must seek to commercialise agriculture. This calls for the aggregation of labour.
The intention is to upscale production through aggregation in order to boost yields and generate new opportunities in agro-processing and value chain development that will open up the economy to both highly skilled and higher wage labour.
Uganda's total irrigable land is estimated at well over three million hectares. However, only 15,000 hectares is under irrigation.
To put more land under irrigation, the government will leverage on public private partnerships with an increased focus on community involvement through out-growers' schemes borrowing from existing Ugandan schemes such as the Mubuku irrigation settlement scheme in Kasese and the Doho rice scheme in Tororo.
The multi-sectorial approach lends itself to economic integration, with Uganda having ramped up its power production over the last decade with the installation of the 250 MW Bujagali power plant and the 183 MW Isimba Power stations.
The net effect has been a 10 per cent power surplus that may lay the foundation for value addition and agro-processing and if the government's commitment at the recently concluded National Agriculture Investment Plan is anything to go by, this may very well be Uganda's economic lynch pin.
Mr Ssempijja is the minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.