Why Ugandans Invest in Malls Instead of Farming
Opinion By Matsiko Kahunga
In the ever-elusive quest to develop and transform Ugandan and African agriculture, two key Ugandan officials recently published related articles on the subject, in the same daily, on the same day. Mr Moses Byaruhanga, Senior Presidential Assistant on Political Affairs wonders why Ugandan investors sink hundreds of millions in plazas, arcades, malls and residential rentals, while we consume beans from America; whereas Ms Rhoda Tumusiime, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development at the African Union, argues the case of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) as the panacea for transforming African agriculture.
Incidentally, I have met these two technocrats in situations related to agriculture. I first met Ms Tumusiime some years back, while she was still a Commissioner in the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF). At that time, I was pursuing a prospect to sell Isuzu pick-ups and trucks to MAAIF, while my meeting with Mr Byaruhanga is a recent one at a workshop in Mukono, discussing the question of agri-inputs in Uganda.
The common denominator here is the donor factor. At MAAIF, the final decision to purchase the vehicles lay with the donors. In Mukono, the funds for organising, hosting and facilitating the workshop where Mr Byaruhanga was a stakeholder participant as a farmer, was from donors. The CAADP, with its Maputo and Malabo Declarations that Ms Tumusiime writes about, is bankrolled by donors. And she is definitely aware of the current stalemate at the AU, between technocrats in agriculture and the Ministerial Council on the same sector.
The Council is against the implementation of the Zenawi Proposal, where the late Ethiopian prime minister rooted for policy matters affecting such key sectors as agriculture in Africa being decided at the AU, not by the sectoral global bodies outside Africa. The stalemate now at the AU is that African ministers of agriculture (who constitute the Ministerial Council on Agriculture) want the current status quo of matters affecting African agriculture being decided in Rome, to remain unchanged, while the technocrats are seeking to implement a directive of the AU Heads of State to have matters of African agriculture handled at the AU headquarters.
And herein lies the Achilles heel to Ugandan and African agricultural development and transformation. Like almost everything in Uganda, each initiative, programme or project in agriculture has a donor component in it. Virtually all NGOs in the country have ‘an agriculture and food security’ component in their programming. As one pundit has observed, it is only donor-funded programmes and projects that attract the best brains in the country. This deprives the sector of the essential innovation and invention skills at the key stages of the value chain. This explains the strange reality of Ugandans consuming imported grated cabbages, carrots and cucumbers, where the only technology needed is brine (salty water) for preservation. And we consume fresh unprocessed Nakati (amaranthus spp), imported from South Africa.
Risky and unpredictable, agriculture ranks number one on the Ugandan risk-averseness scale, the reason why Ugandans prefer to invest in buildings. And the billions sank there would have a transformative multiplier effect if invested in an agri-industrial joint-venture, with government as the lead investor. This will only be possible if governments in Uganda and Africa are able to attract their best brains from the ‘lucrative’ donor-funded programmes and projects. And Mr Byaruhanga and Ms Tumusiime are best placed to deliver this to the ears that matter!
The author is a management and development consultant.