Mr Pius Wakabi Kasajja, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), says the year 2020 was a challenging one that stretched the ministry. However, excellent planning and a high level of improvisation helped the ministry overcome the tide. Kasajja highlighted this and other gains in the agricultural sector during the Ministry’s inaugural digital engagement with the public on Thursday December 17. Below are some excerpts from the session…
How has Covid-19 impacted the agricultural sector in Uganda?
Covid-19 has indeed disrupted some activities in the ministry including some of the enterprises in agriculture in Uganda. One of the most affected is the horticulture business that fetches a lot of money in terms of our exports. During the lockdown, workers were required to spend nights on the farms, or not to work at all; so, farms that didn’t have workers were affected since all the sanitary measures were not being implemented. I had several meetings with the affected farmers as this was a huge problem at that time. The few who had the capacity to coordinate the work at the farms realized it was very expensive and as a result stability, quality and production were compromised. This really affected us as a ministry, especially in terms of revenue. It was until after we finally opened up that normal production resumed in the horticulture sub-sector.
All in all, we thank the farmers that went on producing despite the Covid-19 challenges as government ensured that agriculture did not come to a stop. People who were engaged in agriculture kept on working to ensure that the country remained food secure. As we speak today, the country has a food surplus and is largely food secure.
Before Covid-19, the country faced a big threat of desert locusts. How did you manage to contain it without causing much harm to the agricultural sector?
On several occasions, people underestimated the locusts because we limited their damage and had it not been for our high levels of preparedness, many farmers would have lost out.
We deployed surveillance teams in advance after seeing the damage locusts had caused in Kenya. With the support of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, we successfully assessed the travelling patterns of the swarm and constructed maps of sites where they laid eggs. That greatly helped us to make informed decisions while spraying the locusts, particularly the eggs before they could hatch.
We also invested heavily in awareness creation in the affected districts. We also had support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the Desert Locust Control Organisation and National Agricultural Research Organisation besides undertaking refresher training of extension workers and surveillance teams from the Ministry of Agriculture and districts in the region. With all this in place, we were able to successfully overcome the threat of locusts even though we are still keeping tabs on the affected areas.
How is technology, specifically mechanization, helping farmers in rural areas?
Government has opened up regional mechanization centers. There is one in; Buwama for central region, Agwata in Dokolo district for the northern region, another will be opened in Mbale for the eastern region, among others which are being opened in other small areas. Some of these are in the process of being fully equipped. The intention is to reduce on the cost of hiring this equipment. This means that smallholder farmers can go and hire this equipment as more affordable rates. We’ve given out a number of tractors to the country, as we currently speak, a total of 322 tractors has been given out and the number is increasing this year to farmer groups across the country as. As we speak today, all districts in the country have received these tractors. The purpose of this is so that farmers can go and hire these tractors from the government mechanization centres at affordable rates of Ugx 40,000 per acre as opposed to Ugs 120,000 per acre from private players so that they can all benefit. That’s how government is supporting the farmers out there including small scale farming.
With regard to water for production, government has put up big irrigation schemes in different areas. We are also starting the small-scale irrigation schemes across the entire country at a cost sharing basis. Government will be paying up-to 65% while the farmers will be required to cover 35% of the scheme. Therefore, we expect many border farmers in the country to benefit out of this in order to mitigate the consequences of climate change.
For some time, the EU has threatened to ban our agricultural exports, how is the Ministry handling this?
EU has expressed concern before regarding our horticulture exports to Europe. As part of their fact finding mission, they instituted an audit towards the end of 2019 which covered the entire country. The EU auditors reviewed our systems, our processes and also visited some farms. The report that came out revealed a promising position as opposed to the original information that had projected a bad situation. On the contrary, what they found was a good and functional system. As a result, our market was left open, and we still export to the EU horticultural products with improvements. In the areas of improvement, government has committed to get funding to see that they are improved. For example, the number of inspectors has increased to support the sector for inspection of on-farm, farm houses and at the airport.
We also had instances which were being orchestrated by the smugglers who were exporting things to the EU using back channels. These have since been stopped by the production of an electronic certification system. We’ve also gone further to get technology for fumigating some of these exports. For example, simsim had issues while heading to the EU market but with fumigators we have in the country this challenge has gone and government is in advanced stages of getting a private partner to fumigate the other horticultural commodities. With these initiatives and improved cultural sanitary measures we’ve put in place, our market is going to be vibrant and above all, our products are the most preferred in the entire EU market.
The problem of fake seeds and fake agro inputs on the market persists, how do you plan to wipe it out?
This is a major challenge we are facing in the country both in crops and animals. We got a 2-way approach towards this challenge, one being short term and the other long term. The long term requires putting up a robust traceability system of all agro products, which can be traced from the factory to the farmer. This means if a fake item is found, one can easily trace its origin. The short-term approach is that we have intensified enforcement on the market by directly arresting those dealing with fake items. As for fake seeds, no issue has come up concerning this in the last four years.
Covid-19 has reminded us of the need to construct regional food stores; what are the ministry’s plans to fast-tracking it?
There is a plan for this under NDPIII, which is focusing on agro industrialization. Agriculture operates in value chains, and regional food stores are part of the value chain. Government is investing huge sums of money and to be more precise, Government is engaging 130million pounds into pre- and post-service handling with agro-processing across the entire country in different value chains which will include cereals, cassava, and tea manly. I wouldn’t say there would be regional food centers but there will be centers put up in areas of mass production. Most importantly, we are promoting the production of dairy and beef which will require a lot of grain in the food for these animals which means we would need a lot of raw material.
This means that the future is going to be very bright for all farmers and for all those who will go into agriculture as a business. The infrastructure being put in place like roads, electricity and capital will be able to support everyone, we are going to show the farmers the money, and they will be able to access it.