Is this the end of small holder farming?

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By Paul Zaake

A failed harvest

A failed harvest

On the Sunday of June 19, 2016, receiving the PHD students with their tutors, interpreters and other staff in Kyotera and the mood is suddenly somber and very nerve. You can almost smell the fear. Hot, drought and climate change this time round seemed to be dominant of all mentioned, felt and observed condition in Rakai.


The thirty five team from Tanzania, Rwanda, DR-Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Spain, Ghana, Guatemala, France and Uganda headed by Makerere Univeristy is in Rakai communities for 10 days field based training and research.


Recently, I was doing my regular community field visits at Nsese trading center, Rakai District where small holder farmers from nearby villages were busy boozing under the auspices of ‘taking-off’ stress of the failed crops majorly due to drought, degraded soils, pests and diseases.


Amidst the sizzling passions and ostentations on display of the hardworking farmers in Rakai, the question is: “will we survive?” somehow managed to occupy center stage. One local resident in the village trading center summed up the mood: “Ebintu bikalubye mukulima, kanyweemu aka gilasi akalala!” (The going is tough in farming, let me drink another glass!), staggeringly pointing to his glass of “waragi”- a locally prepared concentrated alcohol that was specially served in plenty at the gathering.
At nearby benches, other locals seemed determined to discuss neither coping agricultural techniques nor options for new income generating ventures but to engorge enough on the local brew and booze to put the current National Resistance Movement (NRM) government, to shame. “Is this it?” I remember being asked by a seemingly 60 year old lady touching Yoweri Museveni’s Presidential Candidacy poster, as I avoided politics discussion by constantly sipping my chilled Afia Juice (Yes, the packed mango juice imported from Kenya!).


So I began. What if anything, the last few months have demonstrated to us all, even the staunchest defender of the traditional farming practices would have to agree with me, is that the National Anthem driven philosophy of Uganda fertile soils and good climate that for so long has been forced into our minds has lost its charm and is now both practically, intellectually, scientifically, and ideologically bankrupt.

So far, a lot has been written and undoubtedly will continue being written about the climate change, soil health and indeed the transformation of small holder farming. However, for me, I have taken a keener interest in the analyses and writings of two imminent scientists: Godfrey Taulya and Emile A. Frison, for I think they have done justice to the subject at hand.

I first came across Dr. Taulya Godfrey whilst pursuing my undergraduate degree in 2011. On addition to getting his incredible mentorship, I read his brilliant book “Ky’osimba onaanya- Understanding productivity of East African highland Banana”. In the book, Godfrey, who is a PHD alumnus of the prestigious Wageningen University, Netherlands, concluded that water is the most important driver of highland banana growth and yield followed by potassium.


This brings a fundamental emphasis for the suitable way to transform agriculture. Research derived policies should be made, implemented and prioritizing the impact prospect for example ensuring that farmers have plenty of water and fertile soils at their farms. Indicators of infrastructure development would have to include irrigation water infrastructure parameters. What is at the core of the crisis is that our production base is narrow, less value addition and the net export is thus worrisome. That is in exception of the reported ‘successful modern-slave labor export’ to Asian countries.


Emile A. Frison an expert on conservation and agricultural biodiversity is the Lead Coordinating author for the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) Report 2016- From uniformity to diversity. The IPES-Food report states that the way food systems are currently structured allows value to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems.


Meanwhile just like one farmer said, “there is hope when for example these PHD students continue to research to plug the gaps in the food systems.” A series of modest steps should be done. These steps will have to be based on research. Farmers will have to adjust and adapt.


I somehow doubt that this will be the end of the small holder farming, I told my PHD friends, but one thing for sure is that it will certainly never be the same again.

Paul Zaake
Agriculturalist and Climate Change Expert, Coordinator at Rakai Environmental Conservation Programme (RECO)
[email protected] , +256759 260260

In : URN Blog

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