Excerpted from: Opio, F, W. Odwongo and M. Ayoki,
Investment and Employment in Agriculture and the Rural
Sector in Uganda, Research Report, September 2000
There is an alarming conflict of interest and competition between increasing environmental degrading and the pressing need to increase investment in agriculture to increase food production and reverse agricultural stagnation. Agriculture contributes directly to the economy by providing food, income, foreign exchange and employment for the population. The extent to which agriculture can provide all these and contribute to sustained economic growth depends on its ability to expand production. This requires increased productivity, intensification and expansion of area under cultivation. And yet, these are land-based activities, which invariably affect the environment. Hence, the key issues related to the impact of investment in agriculture on the environment include, among others:
The main causes of soil degradation include soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, poor methods of cultivation, changing land use patterns and increasing population pressure.
Poor cultivation practices through over-cultivation, continuous cropping (soil mining), and destruction of conservation structures, result in poor soil structures which are vulnerable to erosion and overall environmental degradation. Increasing population pressure is the main cause of poor practices, while demand for higher incomes and uncontrolled extensive cultivation for commercial agriculture have resulted in over-cultivation at the expense of environmental degradation (NEMA, 1998).
Fragile ecosystems such as wetlands and hilltops, when cropped without adopting soil conservation measures may lead to loss of plant and animal biodiversity. Cultivation of seasonal swamps in Eastern and Northern Uganda, which traditionally have been used for grazing in the past and have been converted to paddy rice fields, has rendered the area unproductive as the soil pH becomes acidic due to poor management. While continuous cropping without fallow or with shorter fallow periods has led to soil degradation and infertility.
Commercialization of agriculture has encouraged bush clearing, which has exposed large tracts of land to soil degradation through rapid loss of organic matter. Mono-cropping practices, which is characteristic of commercial agriculture accompanied with intensive use of agro-chemicals, if not handled properly, will lead to soil contamination, while improper tractorization may also, in future, lead to soil compaction and poor soil structures.
Several measures are needed to mitigate the impact of investment in agriculture on the environment. Legal and regulatory measures such as laws on the use of wetlands and hilltops should be put in place. The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has established guidelines for the use of wetlands and hilltops. These needs to be enforced. The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) should come up with practical policy option that could promote proper husbandry practices and encourage soil conservation practices as the country embarks on the implementation of the PMA.
While agriculture in Uganda is still based on low agro-chemical input usage, use of fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides is increasing. As the demand for higher yields increases, more agro-chemicals will have to be used. These inputs are not always used properly because of high illiteracy and lack of farming skills among farmers, which if not checked will lead to massive soil and water contamination.
And yet, under the liberalization policy, many commercial farmers have begun to invest into the use of agro-chemicals to boost yields. A 1997 report of the USAID funded IDEA project suggested that many flower farms around Lake Victoria had adopted intensive use of agro-chemicals and since these farms are located in the shores of the Lake, there is a high risk of contaminating the water table and the Lake itself.
A number of measures should be put in place to mitigate the effects of agro-chemicals on the environment. An integrated approach to promote safe use of agro-chemicals could be adopted involving MAAIF, NARO, NEMA and NGOs. Use of organic manures and bio-fertilizers being promoted by Makerere University as well as adoption of agro-chemical-neutral plant genetic resources could be encouraged. As these measures are more labor intensive, they would promote labor use and create employment opportunities. Increase in yields would lead to more output and income, which are consistent with the Government policy of poverty eradication and improving the quality of life in rural areas.
Adoption of appropriate technologies is constrained by lack of farmers’ skills and their inability to purchase such technologies due to low incomes and poor access to credit. Hence, agricultural productivity has remained low as a result of over dependence on rudimentary technology and family labor, which has exacerbated poverty and under-employment in the rural sector.
Weak farmer-extension-research linkages have been a major draw-back in imparting knowledge to farmers. In the absence of extension services, farmers have continued to practice traditional techniques at the expense of proper husbandry. The age-old shifting cultivation practices are still commonly practiced in various regions of Uganda. This has often resulted in low yields and serious environmental degradation.
Farmer-extension-research linkages need to be improved to promote and encourage use of appropriate technologies. Training of farmers at district farm institutes should be re-initiated to educate farmers and raise their awareness in regard to new technologies and husbandry practices through agricultural shows and field demonstrations.
Issues about agricultural sustainability and environment degradation hover around (1) what production systems should be proposed to farmers and when should high input versus low input systems be promoted and at what environmental cost, (2) will farmers want to invest in the productivity and sustainability intervention and how should these interventions be designed to maximize adoption rates and (3) what are the effects of policy on the patterns of investments in agriculture.
- The issue of what production systems to propose to farmers?
The concern that the introduction of high-input systems may further degrade the environment is based on the direct static effects of the environment. In reality, higher-input systems perform better than low traditional systems. Intensification of production would reduce pressure on the cropping of vulnerable or marginal lands, while higher incomes would reduce poverty, produce growth linkages and provide capital for investment in soil conservation.
Indeed, Uganda offers a higher potential for agricultural intensification, especially where soil types and topography are suitable for high-input systems. Both East and Northern regions of Uganda are ecologically suited for agricultural extensification and intensification systems, provided that sustainability measures are given high priority. These will augment productivity and create employment opportunities for the rural households.
- Will farmers want to invest in productivity and sustainability interventions?
Innovation is a necessary condition for the sustainability of high-input systems to sustain modified traditional systems. One of the main investment requirements in this regard is in “water harvesting” for dry areas, which may include tied ridges, irrigation channels or bands of laterite to hold water. Although these may not be very efficient, effective use of household labor might suffice. But given that household resources are limited for a sustainable practice to be adopted, farm households would do better if they diversified their earning sources as well. Off-farm employment to utilize household labor may offer a better alternative use of family labor, which gives the household regular income compared to investing on on-farm activities only. Hence, it is important to consider opportunity costs across sectors and capital constraints facing farm households in designing sustainability investments for farm households in Uganda.
- What are the effects of policy on the patterns of investment on agriculture?
Special emphasis is often put on direct investments in resource conservation due to the problems of externalities, capital constraints and short planning horizons of farm households. But Government can influence household investment patterns through policies that affect: (1) net returns to transaction costs, via price policy, (2) the stability of investment climate and (3) financing of farmer-extension-research linkages to avail stock of innovations and encourage adoption.
It should be noted that the way policies actually influence markets, inter-sectoral opportunity costs and hence the choices of households are quite complex. Various factors such as market de-regulations, exchange rates and interest rates all play a significant role. Bottlenecks and controls resulting from market regulations may create thinner markets and greater price fluctuations, which render investment in agriculture less attractive. And high interest rates due to underdeveloped capital markets may encourage farm households to shorten their investment planning horizons and probably discourage sustainability investments.
(i) Appropriate land use system needs to be developed and enforced. The national, district, sub-county, parish and village participatory land use plans is already provided for in the National Environment Statute of 1995. Bringing the plans to bear with appropriate land use policy that should be developed as recommended by the recent 1997 Land Act Implementation Study, will improve land use for the benefit of all. Complementary to the land use plans is the preparation of district, sub-county, parish and village-level environment action plans as provided for under the National Environment Statute of 1995.
 It is believed that Uganda's natural resources, particularly land, are being utilised wastefully.