Uganda’s Hope in Fighting Poverty Lies in Agriculture Not Industrialization

Tea Farming

There is no country in the world even with strong laws (read respect for property rights and thus attractive to foreign investment) which can create enough jobs to absorb the 40% or anything close to what Ugandan families are producing. The population is a killer. It is a net burden on society and that includes land. The consumption power is very low. And is not about to rise. As far as I know no one is seriously talking about population because I was reminded in UAH Uganda is very far from its carrying capacity. May be.

Oil will not solve the problem. Go to Saudi Arabia and see beggars on the streets. No health care either. It is shocking but true.

Here is the truth: Uganda ‘s best hope to fight poverty and unemployment lies in the agricultural sector not industrialization. It goes without saying that a country that cannot feed itself can never dream of anything. You recall in Mbale to be exact North Mbale/Sironko the days when BCU was well run to buy coffee from farmers.

Those farmers were not poor. They spent some money on education for their kids, built better homes, got connected to the electricity grid, purchased consumer good, additional land and saved some money in Mbale or made investments. That is not true today especially in Buganda and Busoga. The situation in Mbale (really Sironko) is different in that even after BCU had survived the idiots who run it today almost killed it.

I recall BCU in the days of Mr. Mafabi and Mr. Magona ‘Kabindi’ was very successful and the pride of the town. Not anymore, but it at least survived unlike the other big cooperative unions in Buganda and Busoga.

I use Bugusuge in Sironko to illustrate another point. Poverty in Busoga and Buganda and Bunyoro is rooted in the insecurity in the land sector. The people in Bugusege have small plots, but they are secure. There is no uncertainty as to what will happen to their land or agricultural produce toady or tomorrow. Therefore they have an incentive to work harder. In Buganda and parts of Bunyoro where the folks are not sure of what tomorrow will bring on the land, they cannot take chances with crops like coffee anymore. Yes I am making the link between land insecurity in Buganda with rising poverty there.

Many have written in UAH with glee how parts of Buganda cannot feed themselves and how the food comes from Ankole and even Mbale. But have they ever wondered why? Is Ankole affected by rampant land wrangles? Is Ankole best with land uncertainty? No. You agree with me, do you not that uncertainty is not good for farmers. I am sure Kibaale despite its great soil is not a basket case. Why? Because of uncertainty about land

Teso is prone to uncertainly from the marauding Karamojong warriors. If the uncertainty can be mitigated or controlled, Teso will rise and shine again in agricultural produce. Therefore it is time to factor in the various linkages and land is at the centre of everything in Uganda .

Let me be clear: regions where there is land certainty are doing better. Poverty is contained. Regions with land uncertainty are reeling. Is it deliberate govt policy? Perhaps. But people are hurting. The farmer in Kibale is not going to plant coffee or plants that take long to mature. She will go for something she can harvest before the uncertainty sets in.

Farmers in regions with land uncertainty are like foreign investor who came to Uganda for a quick buck. They are not interested in long term or brick and mortar business to create jobs, no, they are after speculative investments which they can dispose of quickly in case of any signs of uncertainty.
Uncertainty in the land sector is harming our people and needs real solutions not gimmicks.

The most efficient solution to the land question is actually a land tax. But why is a land tax not being talked about? You know the answer hint: today’s largest land holders are not the off springs of the favored few in Buganda but members of the 1986 rags to riches class. Because they own most land, they are not prepared to consider the most efficient tools to the land problem.

Suppose the regime was to walk the talk and came up with a policy that anyone with 20 acres of land must pay a land tax on 75 or even 50 percent of that land. If you own 20 acres you pay taxes on 15 or 10 acres and so on. How much money do you think the regime would mint from land tax? It may even dedicate the tax revenue from land to the land fund to fund land purchases at reasonable rates.

I understand the land fund is empty. But they can find 5 billions here for Sudhir or 10 billions here for the crook from Bushenyi. With a dedicated land tax, the land question would fund itself towards an equitable and efficient solution. One of these days, I will share with UAH the 300 or so largest land holders in Uganda . The data is being compiled on the ground. But this much is clear: personal interests are harming policy making in Uganda . They do not talk about a land tax because it would affect them personally so they prefer to create uncertainty rather than deal with real issues.’



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