- Investors take on commercial agriculture-as Ugandans go hungry
- Chinese, Kenyans, Germans, Indians own square miles of agricultural farms in northern Uganda.
The 2014 National Population and Housing Census put Uganda’s population at 35 million persons. President Museveni once described the nation’s population explosion as “a great resource.”
The same census report reveals that urban population has been increasing from 1.7 million in 1991 to nearly 7.4 million in 2014. Ten years from now, Uganda’s population is projected to hit 68 million. It was also revealed that a sizeable number of Ugandans sleep hungry.
The FAO report titled; the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013, revealed that the prevalence of malnutrition in Uganda is increasing. The upward trend in undernourishment is a result of decline in food production as the youth dash to town to ride motorcycles, leaving huge chunks of fertile land idle.
When these statistics landed on foreign strategic investors, they quickly moved out to acquire the land to start commercial agriculture to tap into local, regional and international market.
According to the recent estimates by the UN, there are 7.3 billion people globally, food demand is expected to increase anywhere between 59 percent to 98% by 2050. Africa [Uganda] inclusive with large crop yields are seen as a source of this food.
Reports indicate, for the last two years, there has been a mad rush for land in Uganda by foreign agricultural investors. They have acquired square miles to take on commercial agriculture.
The foreigners taking on commercial agriculture include: Asians, Chinese, Kenyans, and Germans among others. These are benefiting from long-term private investment and public spending. Many large institutional investors, including pension funds and sovereign wealth funds who have made major commitments to support global agricultural production and trading in recent years.
Sources say, the demand for agricultural land by foreigners has increased as the first movers post huge profits.Some local entrepreneurs have also joined the business. These investors now spend most of their time in Northern Uganda.
Reports indicate, Northern Uganda once described as the Uganda’s headquarters of poverty, is soon turning into a food basket of the country and region.
Northern Uganda [largely consisting of Acholi, Lango, West Nile, Karamoja, Bukedi, Elgon, Teso and part of Bunyoro] lagged behind the rest of the country partly because of long period of insurgence. For over 20 years, Northern Uganda land has been idle. Above all, the land is flat, making it easy for agricultural mechanization.
Three major crops are the focus of the investors: Sorghum, Sim Sim and Maize.
German National owns 05 Square miles of Maize in Kiryandongo
Four years ago, a German National, came to Uganda as a volunteer teacher in one of the Northern Uganda Schools.
During this time, he realized that the school had problems feeding the students. He asked the school management to let him set up a small garden of Maize for the school. He was impressed by the yields. With a favorable climate, available land, the following year, he flew back to Germany to source for funds [from the family and Private Equity Funds] before returning to Uganda to venture into commercial Agriculture.
Two years later, the volunteer teacher turned commercial farmer is today the largest maize producer in Uganda ‘ His farm sits on five square miles.
His farm is located between Masindi Port and Kiryadongo. This comes at a time when more than 1.3 million Ugandans in 45 districts across the country are facing a food crisis and a disaster for the whole country is looming- the State Minister for Agriculture Christopher Kibazanga warned recently.
In May 2016, government of Uganda also awarded Chinese firm Ke-Hong Group 2,500 acres of land in Ngaaju-Ndibilungi village, Butambala subcounty in Luweero district for agricultural production.
The multibillion projects will involve rice farming, poultry, horticulture, and fish-farming. Speaking at the launch of the project, Luo Heng, the lead investor for Ke-Hong Group, revealed they plan inject in the project up to $220 million (Ugx. 726 billion).
Any benefits to Uganda?
The Chinese Luwero Agricultural project is expected to create 20,000 work opportunities, increase productivity of local farmers and improve their incomes. The project is also expected to benefit farmers from the neighbouring districts of Nakaseke and Nakasongola, through technology transfer to out-growers.
It is said, many of these investors are targeting foreign market. As such, Ugandans may not necessarily benefit from these projects and are likely to pay more for food in the future. Otherwise, these investors are looking for higher returns on investment-with focus on the international market.
Do we have a policy that restricts them from exporting their agricultural produce before the local market is catered for and at affordable prices?
This trend [huge chunks of land] taken over for agriculture by foreigners is leading to sudden pressure on existing town facilities and the resultant problems of unplanned population growth in town centers as the unsettled Ugandan move in towns.
Soon or later, we are likely to have two extremes of Ugandans-the rich few running economic activities and low-end class surviving by luck on the streets.
The Ugandans who are unsettled, the majority of whom are the uneducated youth, After smoking off the money from the sale of their ancestral land, with no job and nowhere to go, they become a real nuisance in urban centres-call them town peasants. They have been described as a time bomb waiting to go off.
It is evident as we work towards middle income status, land development is a must. However, there should be a clear policy for anyone who buys land from the peasants.
For example, government or the investor should set up housing units for the unsettled Ugandans, provide them with services like education and employ some of them on these farms. Besides, instead of selling off their land, these peasants should be encouraged to become shareholders in the projects, thus entitling them to annual profits on top of the money given them to vacate their land.
It is also important that they are provided with some basic financial management skills to avoid them wasting the money given to them.
Over to you the authorities.