Modernisation Too Modern for Uganda?

The Monitor (Kampala), editorial, 25 August 2000

Kampala—It's a grand concept—modernisation of agriculture. But it is also huge and if it has got to be meaningful, it should be taken right down to the ground. One hopes that workshops and seminars will be minimised over this important issue—practical discussion should be at the ‘soil’ level.

I am not personally anti-workshops, etc. But sometimes, we go to ridiculous levels of workshops and seminars when we could use the money spent therein on more worthy and practical ventures. Not to mention that cynics have always jibed that the NRM is a government of ‘Seminarians’—meaning a government which has specialised in having seminars at every given opportunity.

The message embedded in this sarcasm being that we need more work and less talk. So let it be with agriculture modernisation—more talk with the soil than in seminars. It does not auger well for the country when the poor, sometimes starving farmer sees the pot-bellies of facilitators at workshops growing bigger when he/shrinks more into himself/herself with pangs of hunger.

I have read the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture: Eradicating Poverty in Uganda. This is a government strategy and operational framework. The brochure was circulated in The New Vision. I do not know whether the fellow who brings my newspapers 'stole' a copy of the said brochure from The Monitor but for sure, it was not there.

If the Ministry of Agriculture did not insert it in The Monitor as well, this was a serious oversight. Such important documents should be inserted in both papers so that many more people can get access to them, discuss, debate them and contribute ideas

Every idea is important however insignificant it may seem to the experts. Our people say that an old woman urinated in a lake and said that anything additional is never small.

Anyhow, the government strategy and operational framework is a comprehensively tailored piece. My own humble suggestion is that since most of our people use the hand hoe (used by 93% of households according to the brochure), why not start the thrust of the modernisation strategy with these very hoe users? It is obvious that modern implements will take a long time to get to this 93%.

In any case, since most of these peasant farmers do not have big chunks of land anyway, ploughs and such implements for big tracts of land will not help them much unless they pool their land communally. If they are convinced to do this, then the ploughs will help. But if each one of them sticks to cultivating his/her small bit of soil, definitely the hoe is their saviour for years to come. This is the reality.

This being the case then, the ministry of Agriculture should strongly look into subsidising the cost of the hand-hoe. Government has already subsidised mosquito nets in order to minimise the incidence of malaria. So why not do the same for the hoes?

Apart from subsidising this important tool, investors interested in agriculture could be encouraged to set up industries to produce hoes. If government waived taxes for the materials used in the production of the said hoes, then of course this would also minimise the cost of the end product.

One item which has struck me positively in the government strategy and operational framework, is the water harvesting technology. This coupled with the recommendation that all the intervention programmes are gender focused and gender responsive, is indeed applaudable.

I always believe that we are making caricatures of ourselves when we talk about women liberation without addressing the question of the availability and accessibility of water in the rural areas.

It is common knowledge that most of the time, it is women who have to travel long distances with heavy containers on their heads to get water. And we are here yapping about women's lib when their backs get bent double under the yoke of water carriers!

If this strategic programme can bring water nearer to the people countrywide, then we can begin to talk about 'modernisation'.

While I personally think the word modernisation is too modern in our context, its a starting point. We await the implementation.