Outlook of farming in Uganda

Posted on September 16, 2016 12:39 am

According to a study done five years ago by American and European scientists, Uganda’s arable land is enough to feed the entire population of Africa as it stands.But thats not likely as Ugandan farmers are used to dealing with variable seasons and the long term shifts of climate change are expected to create new challenges.Uganda farmers already do a good job of managing a variable climate, and researchers have developed several climate analysis tools. Such tools lets users interrogate climate data and apply them to agriculture and are becoming popular with growers, researchers and agribusinesses.In Wakiso district, the best farmers are already producing crops, fibre and meat operating very close to the maximum of the achievable productivity, under present technology. This means that the impact from expected changes in climate could still be significant in terms of reductions in profits and increases in risks e.g. profit variability from season to season.Foreign researchers recently simulated the impacts of a climate change scenario on the expected profits and risks of different types of farms in Mubende and Masaka districts.An irrigated farm business from Masaka was largely resilient to the impacts of this climate change scenario. Their capacity to irrigate crops gives the farmer from Masaka independence from in season or season to season variation in rainfall. Though still, relatively small irrigated farms in Wakiso district are highly vulnerable to reductions in water allocations and increases in energy or labour costs.A mixed cropping and grazing farm from Mubende had reduced profits and increased risks. Relatively larger mixed-cropping and grazing farms that grow pastures as well as grain crops are more resilient to changes in rainfall. This is because these farms have diversified their sources of income with activities that have different sensitivity to drought, for example grasses are less sensitive than grain crops to temporary water shortages.Rain-fed cropping farms in Mubende and Masaka had more significant reduction in farm profits and increases in risks. Medium sized farms that grow more drought sensitive grain crops like maize, wheat and chickpeas have fewer or no income options during the poorer drier seasons.Even though there is evidence that climate change is likely to impose important stresses on most natural and managed systems, these changes are likely to still be perceived and managed as another source of climate variability.

Ugandan farmers make two types of decisions to cope with change and that include the decisions about the more urgent and certain issues in day to day activities, and those that are driven by medium to long term goals and a less certain future. Also there is an added complication such that when it comes to farm businesses, the outcome of any decision will be closely related to changes in climate patterns namely the short term climate variability. This is the case now, and it will continue to be the case in 20 years time, regardless of the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.Sadly,funding for research and development to manage climate variability has significantly dwindled in Uganda.Luckily there are numerous organisations that have provided funding to support Ugandan farmers’ adaptation to climate change. In Mbale and larger Mount Elgon region, carbon farming initiatives mostly focus on mitigating emissions and sequestering carbon in soils. As a result, the focus and effort of most research and development providers are focusing on mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration in Uganda.Considering that farmers best respond to season to season changes in climate or market, and not to slow climate changes, the value of the information produced by these programs to support on-farm decision making is rather limited. This also shows how the focus of the funding for research and development can dramatically change direction largely driven by Uganda’s policy agendas such as carbon pricing rather than by ideas merit in science, innovation or practical relevance.Providing information on the costs and benefits of various options for adapting to possible future climate change is unlikely, by itself, to change how farmers strategically plan their businesses. Alternative strategies may consider supporting programs that better bridge Uganda farmers’ responses as drivers of change.Of course there are uncertainties about the direction, intensity and timeframe of the expected changes in climate. Nonetheless, Ugandans still have to talk about how farming systems react to different acting stresses. According to studies I have seen, the best way to do that is through discussions with farmers in different areas of the country from Masaka to Gulu and from Mbale to Mbarara about the benefits and trade-offs from alternative adaptation pathways.Uganda government and researchers should be supporting farmers with relevant and actionable information. They need to know how to make the most of the opportunities of a highly variable climate and they need to know how to cope with reductions in the terms of trade and the increases in input and labour costs and they need to know how to break through ceiling productivity gains. These issues should provide focus for research, development and extension investments in Uganda.Results from such research would leave farmers better prepared to deal with the less certain and more difficult future for agriculture.

Contador Harrison