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Why The Average Ugandan Farmer Remains Poor

by Joshua Kato
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Agriculture is the backbone of Uganda, all reports show. Sixty-eight percent of Ugandans directly survive on agriculture according to the 2014 National Census.

According to the 2019 World Bank Poverty Report, Uganda managed to reduce household poverty to 21.4.7% from 24.5% in 2010, thanks largely to development in the agriculture sector.

A Vision Group Citizens Manifesto Survey carried out in March 2020 indicated that Ugandans rated ‘poverty’ as the second highest challenge facing them, after poor health services.

When actual household poverty figures are examined, they indicate that the poorest people per region come from areas that purely practice agriculture for a living. For example, 32.2.7% of the people in northern Uganda are poor, 35.5% in eastern Uganda, only 8.7% in western Uganda and just 4.7% in the central region.  But even in the central region, the poorest people reside in the typically farming areas of Gomba, Kyankwanzi, Kayunga and Rakai, where poverty levels averaged 19%.  

While the western region also practices agriculture, there has been a high level of adaptation of better practices, especially in the livestock sector, hence improving farmers earnings. This is certainly what is lacking elsewhere. So, why are the poor of the poorest found in farming areas?

Sowing the seed of my grandfather

Ugandan farmers have got a much lower rate of adopting new technologies compared to farmers in the developed world. If one buys improved seeds, for example, they do not want to apply fertilisers that go with them or even use the right spacing and post-harvest handling.

According to surveys, less than 20% of seeds planted each year are improved seeds-hybrid or OPVs. The rest, 80% are saved from the previous harvest.

Saved seeds are ordinary and their yield is ordinary, but then, farmers who use them claim that they do not have money to buy improved seeds.  Even those who buy and plant the improved seeds, they do not go the extra mile to adopt the entire practice chain.

“Hybrid seeds  perform better with fertilisers, for example. However, in many cases, when a farmer buys them, he plants them without the fertilisers. This obviously affects performance,” Josephine Okot, the proprietor of Victoria Seeds, explained. 

In Uganda, usage of fertilisers stands at less than 5% and in most cases, this only applies to the large commercial farms.

This is why, while hybrid maize seeds (for example) can produce as much as 5 tonnes an acre, they averagely produce 2 tonnes on most Ugandan farms. The misbelief applies to all other seeds and seedlings. 

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