Required policies and interventions
Climate change is heavily impacting on farm yields thus threatening food and nutritional security affecting potentially 70% of the households in Uganda (Bagamba et al., 2014). Majority (95%) of the farming units are rain-fed with only 3% irrigated (Sridharan et al., 2019). There is need for policies and interventions to promote climate smart agricultural practices like crop and livestock diversification, better food storage and processing facilities, agroforestry and re-afforestation, restoration of degraded lands, weather fore casting and early warning systems. Insurance policies for enabling farmers recover from climate change shocks are long overdue. The National Climate Change Bill, 2020 (The National Climate Change Bill, 2020) inaction process should be fast tracked to support enforcement of such interventions. Climate smart agricultural policies will help small holder farmers produce amidst the changing climate. The policies should support interventions that for example increase production and productivity, climate change adaptation and mitigation. Such interventions are developed from research and e.g. drought tolerant crop varieties and animal breeds, affordable irrigation facilities, etc. The government should establish research grants for both public and private research institutions.
The government of Uganda allocated a meager 3.7% of the national cake to the agriculture sector against the 10% as agreed in Malabo declaration of 2014 (ESAFF – Uganda, 2021). It is continually mentioned that agriculture is the backbone of Uganda, employing more than 70% of the citizens. There is need to increase budgetary allocation for agricultural sector to more than 10% to cater for research and innovations and skills development for the small holders and their extension advisors. The budget allocations to agricultural handouts e.g. giving free planting materials to farmers under operation wealth creation and NAADS programs should stop, for it is not sustainable. This money may be taken to financial institutions. The financial institutions should provide low interest loan facilities to farmers or amend the current policies regarding loan repayment schedule and interest rates. Farmers need their own agricultural bank to access low cost finances to look after their current crops and animals but also to expand.
The SDG on zero hunger should not be tackled in isolation. The SDG affects and is affected by several other SDGs. For example eliminating hunger is closely linked to no poverty (Goal 1), good health and well-being (Goal 3), etc. The hungry cannot meaningfully contribute to economic development and the poor also do not access nutritious and adequate food all the time. The quality of food influences health and wellbeing. A sustainable livelihoods approach should be adopted while designing poverty alleviation interventions in Uganda. There is thus need for holistic planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The state need to integrate SDG2 targets in all development plans for MDAs, CSO and private sector. This should be coupled with establishing stronger stakeholder linkages; coordination bodies (e.g. committees or country working groups) for SDG 2. Uganda needs to provide more space for SDG2 in all its strategic plans, annual work plans and budgets, develop better M&E tools with locally developed indicators for monitoring the goal and strengthening institutional, legal and policy frameworks for attaining SDG 2.
There should be better policies to support farmers to produce nutritious food while conserving and protecting the environment. For example, there must efforts to increase agricultural productivity outside fragile ecosystems like swamps through the use of modern practices e.g. irrigation, high yielding varieties, use of environmentally friendly soil enhancers etc. The PPP model should be evoked to promote sustainable agriculture interventions e.g. projects supporting integrated crop pest and disease management and soil conservation and regeneration practices. Cost-effective regenerative agricultural practices ought to be prioritized in all farming systems. Regenerative agriculture endeavors to generate agricultural products, sequesters carbon, and enhances biodiversity at farm scale. Regenerative agricultural practices to be adopted in Uganda include; rebuilding tilled soils and fostering biodiversity of fauna and flora. The agricultural advisors should be re-oriented and retrained on the principles of sustainable agriculture and regenerative agriculture.
Establish channels for more equitable food distribution from points of plenty to points of scarcity. This can be achieved through effective and fair food markets e.g. online food markets and distribution systems. Agro-dealers should also ensure online stocking and transfer of agricultural technologies and knowledge to farmers who can access them. Traders can ensure home to home delivery of food items to remote communities. The food traders should be supported with facilities (e.g. internet and transport) to distribute the food to the people who are far from production areas. There is need to revamp farmer cooperatives for consumers to always know and keep connected to these cooperatives as potential food suppliers for easy exchange of food items. There should be efforts to enhance urban-rural linkages to enable supply of adequate and nutritious food to an increasing urban population. Consumers need to have food markets in their communities or reliable public transport to access the food markets. There can be pre- or post-payment facilities available to food consumers and traders to minimize disruptions in food access and marketing. It may also be helpful to encourage farmers to stock long-shelf life foods such as cereals and pulses to be able to cope with situations of food scarcity.
This is a time to explore wild varieties of plants or the abandoned indigenous foods and seeds. Farmers should be supported to adopt indigenous knowledge and cultural methods of food production, processing and marketing. There is still a wide variety of beneficial indigenous and traditional foods e.g. wild climbing yams (Dioscorea bulbifera) and goose berries (Physalis peruviana) in Uganda (Tumuhe et al., 2020). It may be helpful to establish a complete traditional food data bank for all local food items for the benefit of the current and future generations.
Government should improve the distribution of facilities e.g. electricity to farmers to support all farm activities from production to processing. It is wise to expand facilities for food handling e.g. storage and processing since the food supply is sometimes overwhelmed by pandemics like COVID-19. Post-harvest handling techniques e.g. drying food can be prioritized in order to extend its shelf life in case there is no adequate market. To address problems of pandemics and fluctuations in food supply, governments and the international community should store more food as a buffer against crises. Food storage is expensive but has often times shown to play an important role in protecting poor consumers in times of food crisis. There is need to develop good diplomatic relationships with other countries. This will attract charitable organizations and foreign government to deliver food and other items to people under in crises e.g. war, disease pandemics and natural disasters.
There a need for farmers to shift from industrial agriculture to diversified sustainable agro-ecological systems. Agro-ecology builds resilience by combining different plants and animals, and uses natural synergies – not synthetic chemicals – to regenerate soils, fertilize crops, and fight pests. It is thus less dependent on imported inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, thereby reducing vulnerability to trade disruptions and price shocks. Rather than clearing landscapes for uniform farming systems, agro-ecology is based on ‘land sharing’. The territorial approach that is advocated by many agro-ecologists provides the opportunity for food producers and conservationists to come together to find solutions that allow the production of healthy food while protecting important wildlife habitats to ensure food security for the growing human population.
In reference to the previously eased COVID-19 lock down and the many challenges farmers face, there is need to develop a one stop smart application. There are already existing applications for agricultural stakeholders e.g. Famunera (for agricultural inputs), we farm and Jumia (for agricultural inputs and household items), teleagria, agrishare, plant-wise factsheet library (for plant pest and disease diagnosis) etc. but these only tackle one issue. The one stop application may have both online and offline functions to help agricultural advisors and farmers access information regarding markets, weather, and pests and disease management in one place.
I would recommend policies that support the removal of all barriers in the agricultural food chain. This would sustainably increase productivity among smallholder farmers, and integrate them into value chains. The current barriers include; low education, missing infrastructure, lack of credit and insurance markets, and insecure property rights. A study conducted in western Uganda indicated that banana farmers are mainly constrained by several barriers that make their farming unsustainable. The farmers are constrained by lack of access and control of land by women (40%), increasing pressure on land, limited farm labor, poor soils and lack of extension services (Desai, 2010). Removal of these barriers would significantly contribute to achieving food security in Uganda and sustainably attain SDG2 targets; 2.1 and 2.2. Regarding land, government needs to formulate a policy on land access and control for girls and women since these are the predominant actors in the agricultural value chain. Agricultural extension workers need to be retooled on land use planning, utilization and management for all agrarian communities to effectively and efficiency utilize the dwindling land resource.
There have been many interventions in Uganda to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. A number of gains have been realized regarding this goal but many have gone unnoticed due to weak monitoring and evaluation strategy for SDG 2. It is possible to achieve goal 2 if all policies, planned interventions developed and some that I have suggested here are implemented by well-coordinated institutions.