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Water Scarcity: Agriculture-Based Economies On Notice

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Water is life. You have probably heard this a thousand times and taken it for granted. After all, Uganda has Lake Victoria and River Nile flows to Egypt, so water should never be a problem. Right?

Then, why do we have people starving with no food in Karamoja when we are the most water-gifted country in East Africa? Why does Kenya have a surplus of fruits and vegetables for export through Kenya Airways yet a big percentage of East Africa’s biggest economy is semi-arid?

Are we in the comfort zone with climate change looming over our heads? Uganda has focused its Vision 2040 development goals on achieving upper-middle income status with glossy figures in agricultural production.

The Parish Development Model is the saviour supposed to drive people out of poverty with smallholder farmers producing for the local, regional and foreign markets. This is on the assumption that there will be water flowing all year round.

However, is water available whenever you need it? What strategies through rainwater harvesting and irrigation have been integrated?

You might have all the plans and numbers right for agricultural production and output per acre, but this is on condition that water planning is part of the equation.

Agriculture is at the centre of Uganda’s economy. The country’s development is thus dependant on availability of water when needed.

Seasonal fluctuation in produce due to erratic rains and 100% reliance on weather patterns is not sustainable to meet market demands. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), water is essential for agricultural production and food security. It is the lifeblood of ecosystems, including forests, lakes and wetlands, on which our present and future food and nutritional security depends.

Yet, our freshwater resources are decreasing at an alarming rate. Growing water scarcity is now one of the leading challenges for sustainable development. The ‘water we eat’ daily through the food we consume is much more than what we drink.

Did you know, depending on the diet, we need 2,000 to 5,000 litres of water to produce the food consumed daily by one person? Climate change knocked on our door way before COVID-19.

Drought and heat waves had already entered the house. All our attention rushed to fi ghting the coronavirus. The danger of water shortages is real.

Water scarcity will hit economies such as Uganda. However, with good planning we can change course with friendly environment practices.

True, we can promote services and manufacturing, but without food, where will people get the energy to work?

FAO states that agriculture is both a major cause and casualty of water scarcity. Farming accounts for about 70% of all water withdrawals, and up to 95% in some developing countries.

For guidance, FAO recommends the choice of crop greatly impacts the amount of water that is needed. Pulses crops (dry grains) have a small water footprint, meaning that to produce 1kg of lentils you only need 1,250 litres of water.

Compare this to the 13,000 litres of water we need to produce 1kg of beef. So if you are into ranching and dairy production, planning your water sources is even more vital for survival.

Granted, Uganda is gifted with water bodies which are supplemented by rain.

Ecosystems are integrated and Lake Victoria does not exist in isolation. Rivers Kagera, Katonga, Sio, Yala, Nyando, Sondu, Miriu and Mara feed Lake Victoria. River Nile carries water out of the lake.

We thus need to celebrate rather than curse whenever it rains.

By Daniel Karibwije, an export trade specialist

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