PPPs in Uganda: start with farmers’ knowledge

Food Security05 Mar 2013Lawrence Bategeka

A top-down approach is unlikely to face the challenges of seasonal and poorly developed rural food markets. 

The past two decades have been a period of market-based economics in Uganda, with a public expenditure programme driven by macroeconomic stabilization on the one hand, and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through provision of public services on the other. MDG1, which aimed at halving the proportion of poor people in total population, had the following two broad targets: i) to significantly increase the incomes of the poor; and ii) to eradicate hunger and malnutrition.

The market-oriented economics currently in vogue in Uganda have fundamentally marginalized pursuance of the latter objective (eradication of hunger and malnutrition) as policy makers lay more emphasis on the former (increasing household incomes). The thinking was that with increased incomes, the poor would access food. Unfortunately, this proved difficult partly because food markets are seasonal and poorly developed in rural areas. Furthermore, although the incomes of the poor in rural areas have increased during the past two decades, Uganda’s high population growth rate (about 3.2 percent per annum) has made it difficult for per capita household incomes to increase significantly.

In my view, eradicating hunger and malnutrition was only mentioned in Uganda’s policy documents but has hardly been pursued. The policy documents did not specify the role of the state in eradicating hunger and malnutrition, yet the state was presumed to be at the forefront of pursuing the MDGs. The policies of liberalization have only helped to worsen the hunger and malnutrition problems because smallholder farmers engage in distress sales of the food that they produce to address their income needs. These incomes often do not ensure their food security. By 2012, 68 percent of households in Uganda were net-buyers of food.

Public private partnerships are needed to address the food insecurity challenge facing Uganda. Focus on smallholder farmers is especially crucial if Uganda is to effectively address the challenge of food insecurity especially in rural areas where the majority of the poor reside. Areas of focus through public private partnerships include the following: i) effective agricultural extension services to all farming households; ii) regulation of inputs markets to protect farmers from fake agriculture inputs (especially seed); iii) ensuring access to agricultural technologies to increase productivity (e.g. measures to ensure good soil health); and iv) ensuring that households have the requisite infrastructure that promotes food security (e.g. storage and food processing facilities).

A top-down approach to identifying the development challenges facing agriculture is unlikely to produce solutions to the problem of hunger and malnutrition in Uganda. For much too long, voices of farming practitioners have hardly been heard in the policy formulation process. Research products, especially from local research institutions, are hardly utilized in policy formulation. Policy-makers need to increasingly work closely with local research institutions to find lasting solutions to the problems of hunger and malnutrition. Such solutions would consider the importance of capital-intensive agribusiness along the food value chain to link small-scale farmers to multinational agribusinesses for food production and marketing. Through private-public partnerships small-scale farmers could be assisted to access capital inputs on a hire basis, which they may not be able to own individually. The requisite infrastructure would need to be put in place either by the public sector or on a public-private partnership arrangement focusing on both the input and product markets. The infrastructure would have to cover the entire food value chain from production, bulking, storage, transportation, processing, packaging and marketing. Using public-private partnerships, small-scale farmers would thus be enabled to benefit from multilateral agribusinesses for food production and marketing.

In brief, a strategy for addressing food insecurity in Uganda must be holistic, focusing on small-scale farmers for production but involving the public sector, the private sector, as well as multinational agribusinesses along the food value chain. The knowledge gained by small-scale farmers through their experience must not be ignored. Policy-makers must encourage communication between themselves, research institutions, and farming rural households and be ready at all times to take into account the knowledge generated through that interaction.

Through public-private partnerships small scale farmers would be enabled to increase their incomes, which would improve their ability to access processed food from multinational agribusinesses. The importance of enabling small-scale farmers to access processed food to meet their food and nutrition requirements is because it lasts relatively longer than raw food.