The National Alliance of Agricultural Cooperatives in Uganda (NAAC) has called on government to undertake a number of measures to buttress Uganda’s agricultural sector against shocks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and position it to make the most of the opportunities a post-COVID future may present.
NAAC, an umbrella union of more than 30 agriculture cooperatives, made the call in a recent policy brief outlining proposed actions that the government can take to assist farmers to produce optimally during and after the crisis.
According to Samuel Sentumbwe, Director in Charge of Policy Advocacy and Partnership at NAAC, special attention needs to be given to the Agriculture sector given its contribution to Uganda’s economy, and the potential disruption it faces as a result of measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are talking about a sector that contributes close to 25% of the country’s GDP and employs 7 out of every ten Ugandans. Whereas we support the government’s drastic response in dealing with the crisis, we should avoid creating conditions for a looming food crisis within the next three to six months,” Sentumbwe said.
Among the proposals outlined in the brief are: re-aligning the budget for the remaining part of the financial year to allocate more resources to finance production-related investments in agriculture; facilitating frontline staff especially at district level to mobilise and organise farmers to actively participate in production activities and incentivizing the manufacture and reliable supply of affordable and quality agricultural inputs to farmers.
A COVID-19 silver lining
The policy brief argues that while the current COVID-related crisis poses an undeniable challenge, it also offers Uganda a unique opportunity to leverage her position as regional food basket by investing intentionally in the agricultural sector now, in order to supply projected shortfalls in food production in the wake of the crisis.
Hence, the brief reads in part: “A post COVID-19 Uganda should be food-secure with ability to meet the domestic food requirements as well as meet the export needs that will arise because of reduced production across the board.”
Sentumbwe says that increased investment in the agriculture sector would help to fill up the revenue gap that is bound to result from the collapse of other critical sectors that have been more affected by the pandemic.
“Look at Tourism for instance. It has been basically paralysed by the Coronavirus pandemic, and yet it has been one of the key sectors of our economy and a good source of revenue for government until now. If we re-align our remaining budget resources to support the agriculture sector to do as well or even better during this period, it may be able to compensate for some of the losses from the more adversely affected sectors,” he argues.
Agriculture hit hard
Among the raft of measures imposed by government to contain the spread of the pandemic, special consideration was given to the agricultural sector, with food markets, agriculture input stores, and transportation of cargo (including agricultural produce) being left untouched by crosscutting bans on travel and general trade in other commodities.
Yet, despite the best of intentions, some of these measures have had a chilling impact on different aspects of agricultural production and access to market. For instance, the closure of cattle markets has left members of cattle cooperatives stranded, while restrictions on passenger travel have disrupted distribution chains, made it more difficult for farmers to get their produce to processors and customers to access markets.
The National Alliance for Agriculture Cooperatives is a union of 30 secondary societies and representing more than 56,000 farmers.