Business and Finance
Expect bumper harvest, says agriculture minister
Q: What is the actual amount of money that was allocated to your ministry in this ending financial year?
A: We had been allocated 4.5% of the national budget but the actual release was about 86% of the 4.5%.
In a recent NRM caucus meeting at Kyankwanzi to discuss solutions for Uganda’s economic challenges, it was resolved that the budget for the agriculture sector will be increased from 4% to 7%. What programmes are you planning for that extra money?
Unfortunately, when the national budget framework paper was produced recently, it emerged that instead of getting additional money in the next budget, our budget is likely to be reduced to 3.2%. Of course, we would have wanted our budget to be increased but if the money is not there, we have nothing to do.
From the money you were allocated, what are some of the achievements you can count?
We caused more food production, so we have been able to feed our population adequately and export the surplus food to neigbouring countries like Kenya, South Sudan and Burundi.
What exactly did you ministry do to contribute to increased food production in the country?
We have supplied improved seeds and provided fertilisers. It has been documented that 1.8 metric tonnes per hectare are produced but you can raise the output to five metric tonnes by applying fertilisers. Through the presidential initiative on bananas, banana production in Bushenyi district has been boosted.
The production of cocoa, tea and coffee has gone up. Cotton has increased from 70,000 barrels to 250,000 barrels.
Any clarification you want to make about the ministry?
There is a misconception that agricultural production has been declining. What is true is that the percentage contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been declining because more sectors are now significantly contributing to the GDP.
There was a time when coffee alone contributed 95% of the country’s GDP. But we now have many other sources of domestic revenue. The volume of production in agriculture keeps increasing.
What more have you achieved this year?
We have carried several research undertakings and improved seed varieties of maize, beans, cassava and coffee. We have a target given to us by the President to raise household family income to sh20m per annum.
Recently, we had zonal conferences in State House to identify enterprises suitable for each zone of the 18 colonial districts which include Kigezi, Ankole, Toro, Bunyoro, Masaka, Mubende, Mengo, Busoga, Bugisu, Sebei, Bukedi, Lango, Acholi, Karamoja, West Nile, Madi, Kampala, and Teso.
We shall be helping each of these districts to specialise and maximise their potential in a particular agricultural activity that is more viable in their area.
What do you intend to achieve from the five year agriculture development strategy and investment plan which ends in 2015?
We want to intensify irrigation schemes, processing of agricultural products, encouraging cluster production, develop markets for both primary and secondary agriculture products, and other measures which will rapidly boost the volume of production in the agriculture sector. We also intend to set up our own building on the plot we have in Bugolobi.Many Ugandans were dismayed to hear that your ministry recently started hiring legacy Towers building in Nakasero at a whopping sh3b, which money would have been used to take more services to the Uganda farmers.
Why did you sanction it?
The actual rent fee is about sh2.7b. Personally, I am opposed to it. We could have used that money to construct our own building because we already have a plot. Are you saying the decision to hire Legacy Towers was taken without your consent?
The decision was made before I became the minister. If I had been there, I would have opposed it because it is not viable.
Now that you are the minister in charge of the ministry, can’t you stop it?
It is difficult because it went through a long process, which is difficult to undo. The best way out of it is for us to quickly get money and construct our own building.
What are some of the challenges you are facing in delivering what is required of your ministry?
One of the major challenges is to reform our extension deliverance system of NAADS. Currently, NAADS reaches only 30% of the farming community. But we want to reform it so that the remaining 70% can as well be covered.
How exactly do you want to reform NAADS?
I have already submitted the proposals to the Cabinet. Such a proposal cannot be discussed in the public before Cabinet decides on it. Why isn’t the agricultural ministry distributing tractors to farmers if it really wants to boost the volume of production because most of our farmers are still using the outdated and ineffective tools like hoes?
Haven’t you heard of the agriculture credit fund in banks? The idea behind that initiative is to enable farmers acquire credit to buy tractors and many farmers have managed to do so.
How many farmers have benefited from that?
For the last three years, more than sh200b has been used by farmers through that credit initative.
But why can’t the Government itself take up the responsibility of ensuring that tractors are taken to at least every sub-county in the country?
The Government divested tractor-hire services because the project was mismanaged. But an individual can buy his tractor and others can hire from him. China has only 7% arable land and feeds 22% of the world population, why isn’t Uganda, with 43% of the entire East African arable land, able to feed more than China?
We know what to do although we are not yet able to do it. The way to raise production is to invest in technology development which starts with research, manufacturing fertilisers, irrigation schemes, mechanisation (or call it tractorisation), and value addition through processing.
If you know what to do, why are you unable to do it?
Fertilisers are imported and that makes it expensive for many farmers. It is also expensive for Uganda to invest in factories to produce fertilisers locally. Processing fertilisers locally also requires resources. he same problem of inadexpect equate resources limits the extent to which irrigation, value addition, and mechanisation can be applied.
Aware that Uganda’s comparative advantage in the international trade is in agricultural products and that agriculture is the backbone of Uganda’s economy, if you were the president, what percentage of the national budget would you allocate to agriculture?
If you are heading a big family with limited resources, you have to identify priorities and allocate funds accordingly. For instance, you can forego buying new clothes and use the money to pay school fees for the children.
In the same way, Uganda has a small resource envelope, with many necessary demands like more power, education, roads, health services and many others. So, I think there are many other pressing demands, which have necessitated the budget for agriculture to remain small.
In the budget for the ending fi nancial year, you were allocated money to construct irrigation schemes, what is the progress on that project?
That money was given to the water ministry, but I am aware that the work is progressing. Infrastructure development is going on. We shall use the facilities when they are completed.
How is the project for establishing food storage facilities in different parts of the country going?
That project is being implemented by the trade and industry ministry. I am aware that they have built some stores and silos in different parts of the country.
When do you plan to retire from politics?
I will retire in 2016. I have four years remaining to complete my term in Parliament. I am now 74. By 2016, I will be 78. I have served the Government mostly in the agriculture ministry for 50 years since January 1962.
I have served my country diligently and for so long. I believe at the end of my current term, I will certainly have to retire