Sunday, April 24, 2011

Demonstrations relevant in improving food security-Daily Monitor:  - Insight |

Demonstrations relevant in improving food security

DEMONSTRATORS: Can they really bring rain?
DEMONSTRATORS: Can they really bring rain?
By Mwambutsya Ndebesa

Posted Sunday, April 24 2011 at 00:00
There is currently an argument that demonstrations cannot bring rain. This is an argument to discount those who are demonstrating because of high food prices. Those of you who come from banana-producing areas in Uganda must be familiar with the case where two banana plantations, side by side on a similar piece of land, with similar weather and soil conditions and yet you find in one, the leaves look very green and fresh while in the other plot they are yellow and miserable. In fact you hear passersby euphemistically remarking that farmer A must be a rain maker.
The reality, however, is that farmer A has better banana husbandry, while farmer B has poor banana husbandry practices. The former probably weeds regularly, prunes and mulches his plantation and these good crop husbandry practices turn him into a rain maker.
No famine
The 1999 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, Amartya Sen asserts in his prize book, Development as Freedom, that there has never been a famine in a functioning democracy. That there is a connection between democratic political rights and the absence of famines.
On the other hand Sen argues that famines in some countries such as Ethiopia were a result of authoritarian political leadership. He argues that the existence of freedom of expression and media information spreads the possible penalty of famines to those in power and this threat is an incentive to those in power to prevent any threatening famine. Regime responsiveness is conditional to being democratic and patriotic.
The relevance of Sen’s argument here in Uganda would be that demonstrations as a form of expressing citizens’ concerns would waken up those in government to not only hear citizens’ voices but to listen to them and come up with better intervention measures against food insecurity, drought or no drought.
In this sense demonstrations will have brought rain, or irrigation, as an intervention measure will be embarked on rather than the latter remaining a song at every budget speech.
There have been numerous intervention measures by government to increase agricultural productivity in Uganda, but these have been poorly executed. These include PMA and Naads Programmes.
Agricultural productivity of major crops in Uganda has declined by sixty percent in the last ten years which, ironically, is the era of Naads. In general, agriculture in Uganda has been growing at a declining rate in the last eight years.
Productivity as measured by the value of total crop output per hectare has been declining according to the report of Naads itself.
Research analysis
Also according to the report of the Agricultural Sector Investment Plan 2009-2010 to 2013-2014, a comparative analysis of farm level and research station yields reveals a huge gap that should embarrass all those who claim to have been carrying out intervention measures to increase Agricultural productivity in Uganda.
For example, the yields on the peasant gardens, maize is 551 kg/ha while on the research station it is about 800kg/ha; coffee is 369kg/ha on the peasant farm while it is 3,500kg/ha on the research station. Beans is 356 kg/ha while on the research station it is about 800 kg/ha. Bananas the yield is 1,872 kg/ha on peasant farms while on the research station it is 4,500 kg/ha.
You can see the contrast between the actual productivity on peasant farms and the attainable potential if there were good practices like those on the experimental stations. The huge gap as demonstrated above shows how Uganda’s potential to produce food for home consumption and remain with a surplus to export is extremely high.
No government intervention
The missing element, however, is effective government intervention either through good food policies or effective policy implementation to improve agricultural productivity.
These policies to increase land, labour and crop productivity can avert the persistent food shortages. It is in this sense that demonstrations which waken up those in government and hold them politically accountable for food shortages is equated to “bringing rain”.
The picture in the fishing sector which is a potential source of food security is even worse than in crop husbandry. According to the same report, production potential estimates indicate that Uganda can produce 800,000 metric tonnes of fish, but current production is a mere 380,000 metric tonnes per annum due to the unsustainable and poor fish harvest practices. And the above miserable picture can easily have a turn-around when government institutes effective intervention measures.
Therefore demonstrations as a political method of expressing citizens’ concern is relevant to improve agricultural productivity and by extension food security. I am here assuming that those demonstrating have similar motives and reasons as the ones I have enumerated above. The demonstrators could be having other motives but that is beside the point here.
The point as Amartya Sen argues, is that constantly holding those in power accountable for the public actions or inactions can avert man-made food shortages which the government normally explains away as purely a natural cause.
Contain crop diseases
Agricultural productivity has also drastically declined due to disease out breaks especially those of bananas and coffee. Currently in some regions of Buganda and the West, some of these crops are almost completely wiped out. Now, can’t government come up with a viable policy to contain these diseases? If people demonstrate against lack of aggressive measures to contain these diseases, will government counter argue that demonstrations can’t stop these diseases?
Fish stocks are almost depleted from our lakes. Is it an act of nature or man’s failure? Fertiliser usage in Uganda is about one percent and is the lowest in the region. Is this an act of nature?
India used to have persistent famines but it has since had a green revolution through government’s effective intervention and this has made food shortages history in India.
It is not because the climate and weather of India has all of a sudden changed. The ‘rain’ of India that has brought about food security is government effective intervention in Agriculture. And remember India is the biggest democracy in the world.
The writer is a lecturer at Makerere University

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