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Uganda can’t divorce land use from transforming agriculture

On December 28, we published an interview with our very own Henry Rupiny Kerali, the regional director of the World Bank for Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Among other things, Mr Kerali, who hails from Nebbi district, warned that Uganda should not allow oil to overly-dominate the economy. Specifically, he urged the government to focus on helping small and medium enterprises thrive, boosting private sector investment in tourism, and raising agricultural productivity.

On agriculture, Kerali proposed that the government considers supporting rural, poor landowners to aggregate their land with a view to setting up larger, modern, more efficient farms. 

Obviously, given how sensitive issues of land are, this would be difficult. But we believe the government should encourage debate around such proposals, and here is why: For some time, we have called for innovative thinking to help reconcile the country’s dreams of modern commercial farms with the reality of shrinking acreages and falling productivity.

Nothing much has been forthcoming beyond injecting military vigour into the distribution of farm inputs under Operation Wealth Creation. Also, to its credit, the government has realized its mistake and moved to rehire agricultural extension workers that had been phased out.

Yet the fundamental contradiction has remained unaddressed. Let’s admit it; it was never going to be easy. But the harder the task, the harder we must think, the more deftly we must move, the more resolutely we must act.

Yes, the bottlenecks are huge, but here is a proposal that holds promise. At the very least, let us debate it; and if we can devise a workable local model, let us pilot it.

Otherwise, as a country, we are burying our heads in the sand. We are watching the worst things happen to land while hoping for the best. We can’t modernize agriculture with land use arrangements that are not only outdated, but also aggressively antimodern.

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