If Uganda is to truly transform its agriculture we need to learn a few lessons from the Netherlands. This tiny country literally feeds the world with its global agricultural exports second only to the USA. Moreover the USA has 270 times the land mass.
Uganda has 6 times the landmass of the Netherlands and 2 times the population. The Netherlands exports over $80bn in agricultural produce every year which is over three times Uganda’s GDP! It is the World’s largest tomato producer. It is also a world leader in research and innovation in modern agriculture.
According to Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN, Uganda’s fertile soils have potential to feed 200 million people. Over 80% of the land is arable but only about 35% is cultivated. Moreover over 70% of the population is involved in agriculture.
The dutch have managed to establish an agricultural innovation hub which has spurred innovation and agribusiness.
Most government projects have focussed on agri-subsidies for all. While this is OK for equity and socio-political reasons it is not efficient. In business/management there is a principle called the pareto principle or 80/20 rule which means 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. Or 80% of your problems come from 20% of issues/causes.
Uganda’s middle class is rapidly expanding with estimates of it being about 3.5m according to UBOS. Let’s say we mobilise one million of these to acquire just one acre of land and put tomatoes on it. Many of these middle class people are borrowing to buy cars and acquire other non cash generating assets.
If you plant a good yielding variety of tomatoes you can raise 6,400 plants per acre with each yielding about 4kg of tomatoes. This yields about Ushs 38.4m (US$10,520) in revenue per season! If we have 1 million middle class people each farming one acre within Kampala and surrounding districts we can generate Ushs 38.4 Trillion (US$ 10.5bn in one season) – and yes I had to double check the math!
Government and private business can mobilise to buy these tomatoes and export them all over the world. Ministry of agriculture can provide farmer extension services through NAADS and OWC. Banks supported by development corporations and government can offer cheap loans to these 1 million people to acquire land and other inputs and set up irrigation systems. The government or a business minded person can actually set up the infrastructure and then lease 1 acre serviced plots to individuals.
And yet we can set up a modern agro processing facility to process the tomatoes.
We can then partner with international agri-business entities who can provide technical support in partnership with Makerere University. Research will focus on improving crop yields using local sustainable solutions.
Imagine US$ 10.5bn in one season! If the Americans can put a human being on the moon surely we can mobilise a million middle class people to take up serious modern agricultural production. In business you optimise your competitive advantage to edge out competition and deliver profit.
This land has been gifted by nature with two rain seasons and fertile soils.
Why not capitalise on this!