A lot has been talked about the need to commercialise agriculture in Uganda and Africa in general. It is no longer disputable that peasant agriculture has immensely contributed to the lingering poverty in this country.
But little do we interest ourselves with the reasons why there is no transformation from peasantry to commercial agriculture. Many reasons have been advanced to explain why Ugandans have stuck to peasant agriculture. Some have blamed colonial distortions and others post-colonial poor agricultural policies and programmes.
Without necessarily going through the numerous reasons advanced by various people to explain why peasant agriculture has persisted, below are the problems I believe have not received due attention.
Ignorance among the population has undermined adoption of innovations and appreciation of the need to commercialise agriculture. Some people rightly blame lack of capital, but there are people with the necessary means who still practice peasant agriculture.
There is need to educate people on what commercialising agriculture is all about. For example, three rich people visited me at my farm when I had planted 500 seedlings of mangoes and wondered why I had many mangoes. To them, a few mango trees were enough so they wanted me to help them get between two to five seedlings. They were thinking about subsistence agriculture. Now that we have UPE and USE is coming next year, it is vital that we include some doses of agribusiness in the schools curricula to orient young people towards commercial agriculture.
Another problem delaying the move from subsistence to commercial agriculture is attitude. Many people, including the educated ones, do not appreciate that agriculture can be a very lucrative business in Uganda. We need to address the issue of attitude change and once we liberate our minds from the negative attitude towards agriculture, change will come sooner.
Absence of functional grass root farmer organisations (cooperatives) has not been given due attention. Commercialised agriculture will not be realised in the near future as long as our peasant farmers continue to operate as individuals. There is urgent need to organise producers into strong cooperative societies at parish level. Collective action will greatly enhance their capacity to transform themselves from peasant farmers to commercial farmers. It is also much easier and cheaper for farmers to access extension services, inputs and appropriate technology when they are organised in groups.
Failure to involve the elite in agriculture is also a problem. Many educated Ugandans, including leaders, are not taking a leading role in the quest to have commercial agriculture. Many such people own expanses of land in rural areas but only engage in production at peasant levels. They put relatives their relatives on the land to foresee the small-scale agriculture taking place there.
There is evidence to show that the few educated people (some are retired civil servants) who have chosen to engage in commercial agriculture are doing brisk business. They are also causing change in their neighbourhoods. It is this guidance that is lacking. It is not enough for politicians to engage in mobilising peasants at rallies and expect automatic results. It is high time we moved from mere talk and started walking the talk.
Let the elite in Uganda, especially political leaders, take the lead in commercialising agriculture. As leaders we play a fundamental role in forming a vision that inspires and guides the nation. If we leave agribusiness to illiterate peasants, we may take relatively longer to achieve the desired results.
The writer is a former MP