Monday, May 24, 2010

Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Rwakakamba discusses the impact of the dawn of biofuels on food security in Uganda

A. Likely impact of biofuels on food security:
Activists say increased production of biofuels will lead to increased food insecurity. What is UNCCI's stand on the Biofuel production vis-à-vis food security?What do you consider as the positives and negatives of biofuels?Is it viable for a developing country like Uganda, which normally is faced with food shortages to undertake large scale production of biofuels?
The relationship between biofuel production and food security is largely perception based. It is so because biofuels have both food insecurity and food security causative links. Forexample, since crop production is driven by yield and acrage developments, production of biofuels compete with food crops for arable land and this change in land use may have adverse results. It therefore follows that increased production of biofuels generally leads to substitution of gricultural resources like land, water, labour, fertilzer e.t.c from food crops and this vehemently results in food insecurity. Food scarcity also mean high prices food. However, if you look at some biofuel crops like soyabean or sunflower, they are usually planted at the end of growing season or towards the end of the rain season or after harvesting main food crops such as maize and rice. The implication of this is that farmers will have their main food crops first and then have their biofuel or energy crops for extra incomes to improve their food security. Therefore, the link between the foregoing perceptions lies in puting in place a clear and consensus policy and law on renewable energy that would guarantee a useful co-existance of both food crops and biofuels to contain food insecurity and energy insecurity in Uganda. As a Farmers Federation, we consider food as basic and first line of security for our members and the Country and our primary demand in regard to biofuels is that Government hastens the policy and regulation of biofules. Such a policy should be formulated and implemented with involvement of farmers.
What measures has UNCCI put in place to guard against side effects of biofuel industry on food production?
First of all, our members in farming business in particular have not taken on biofuels in huge proportions. Few farmers are engaged in production of biofuel crops like Jatropha, caster beans, soya beans and sunflower. As for cotton farmers and sugarcane outgrowers we are engaging sugar cane millers and cotton ginners to have farmers benefit from royalties that accrue from use of cotton seed for biofuel and bargasse from sugar cane for energy. We are ofcouse oblivious of side effects or negative effects biofuels can have on environment and food security. This is why, we encourage our farmers to grow food security crops like cassave, engage in production of biofuel crops like caster beans and sunflower during off season, and those farming Jatropha to target barren lands for production. Preservation of environment and ecological integrity of Uganda is central to Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry principles, this is why we consider as unsustainable actions that mean degazzatement and destruction of forests for planting palm oil or sugar cane, unabated destruction of riparian wetlands and degradation of key ecosystems in the country. By mobilising our core agency of farmers and other members in district chambers , we are able to meaningfuly stave off side effects biofuels on food production.

Where (which country) can we cite that has been hit by food shortages yet it produces biofuels?
I only know of Myanmar where the Miltary government leader Than Shwe in 2005 ordered a national drive to plant jatropha, a poisonous nut he hoped would be the cornerstone of a state industry that would capitalise on growing world demand for biofuels. To achieve the foregoing, he forced farmers to stop growing rice for jatropha. Even in cities and townships people were forced to grow it in their yards and along roads. Mynamer will now take decades to jump out of food insecurity and poverty. The lesson for Uganda here is that policy by slogan and top heavy mechanistic methods of work can destroy a country. As a farmers Federation we call upon government and other actors to involve farmers and general citizenry in renewable energy policy formulation, implementation and monitoring to avoid the Mynamer escapade.

If UNCCI believes biofuels will affect food productivity, which other renewable energy sources can you suggest as the way forward?
There are a myraid renewable energy sources like biomas where residues from cropstocks and forests form a feedstock for combustion leading to a powerful energy source. Researchers are also pointing to elephant grass, softwood and cassava waste as cellulose based plants that can produce bioethanol. Our farmers in Rakai and Mukono are using agricultural waste to manufacture chacoal briquettes as a sustainable source of household energy. The foregoing are partly where the wayfoward lies. However, with the right and deeply consultative renewable energy policy and law in Uganda, biofuels may not affect food productivity.

B. Rapid population growth versus food security in Uganda:
According to UNCCI, what is food situation in Uganda i.e. how food secure or insecure is the country (any reports you can provide)
Over the last 10 years, agriculture productivity has been dwindling from 7% to now 1.3% growth! As such agriculture sector contribution to GDP is 21% as of 2009. This is happening at a time when the country is experiencing unprecedented pupulation with fertility rate at 7%. This means that every year there are over a million more mouth to feed. Therefore, once you have a situation where food production fails to match or exceed pupulation growth you have chronic food insecurity as a result. According to FAO the number of households considered food insecure has increased to 124,000 in the Acholi region, up from 86,000, and to 32,000 in Teso, up from 12,000. In Karamoja, the numbers of people who are food insecure are approximately 615,000! If you factor in malnourishment, the numbers double. To this extent therefore, Uganda is still food insecure.

What do you consider as the leading causes of food shortages?
Uganda has immense potential to achieve a food secure status. This will be possible if as a country as a people we foccuss on increased financing for the sector, invest in restoration of our invironmental and ecological integrity (for example Uganda loses , put in place a strategy to contain adjuncts of climate change, resolve the issue of land policy to gurantee ownership and user rights of land by farmers, remove barriers to markets by investing in market infratracture, open up community access roads to link producers to markets, clean up input markets and guarantee rights and access to seed, shift to a more predictable farming systems as opposed to chance based agro systems that feed on rains to survive. We have to invest in value adition, these are neccessary investiments to have surplus
What is UNCCI's view on the rapidly increasing population in Uganda vis-à-vis food security? i.e. how will the population increase affect food security?
Uganda has one of the highest fertility rates and one of the fastest growing populations in Africa. The current population growth rate is 3.2%, compared to the world’s average of 1.2%. At UNCCI, we think that the size of the population perse’ should not cause discomfort. What should concern us is the quality of the population. For instance having a skilled and inspired population in farming would have an indelible positive impact on the agriculture sector and transformation in real terms of our country. However,the rapid growth of low quality population in such a short time can have serious implications for Uganda’s aspiration to evolve as a middle income economy over the next 25 years. The current population growth and fertility rates that are not in consonance with requisite resources have serious implications for food security, energy security, water security, housing security etc. Therefore a rational policy and interventions that addresses the balance between population growth and proportional sustainable resources and technologies is important. And such a syndication should inform this raging debate.
How is the rapidly increasing population and urbanisation likely to impact on food security?
Principles of classical economics project to us a thining that increase in population and urbanisation translate into massive demand for food stuffs and products and as such the new found demand would induce supply. The interplay of demand and supply would also mean increased production and spread of wealth amongst the population. Such a population would be cushioned from food insecurity. This ideal situation would occur if we have requisite policies, inspiration, strong / organised farmer groups, infratructure and skills in place. Our government and other actors must focuss on this to ensure food security.
Reports on population growth and how the rapidly increasing population and urbanization likely to impact on food security? comment on the increasing urbanisation where the food producing population (youth) continues to migrate to urban centres.
The issue of young people shunning agriculture for boda boda and the service sector is increasingly becoming contentious. I think a young person is more attracted to riding a motocycle and making some daily income than holding the hoe that will mke him or her take six month to generate a miserable and unreliable income. Therefore Youth will get attracted to agriculture once government puts in place a package of incentives that makes farming profitable and less muscle power based. As a UNCCI we promote young farmers through involving them in leadership at the highest level, training them in time tasted on farm practices and policy advocacy postions that integrate youth interests. UNCCI, is now running a young achievers awards where excellence is rewarded. This is true for young people in agriculture.
Which way forward? Suggest possible ways how the country can ensure enough food supply, besides controlling population growth.
First, the fundamental role of agriculture is to ensure food security for consumers and secure livelihoods for farmers. Therefore, Uganda government must invest in enabling agriculture infrastructure. For example, Without roads and basic infrastructure; farmers cannot receive basic inputs or get their products to market, Without secure land tenure and modern equipment for farm production and processing, yields will continue to be low and post-harvest losses high and without a firm national commitment to agricultural development and a stable and conducive policy environment in which it can take place, investment will not come. National budget commitment to agriculture must shoot above 15%.
Secondly, to contain food and energy insecurity, factor productivity (land, labour, and capital) will have to be raised substantially. To this end, Uganda should with urgency direct money to eight core ares; Technology Development/Research; Advisory Services and Technology Delivery; Disease, Pest and Vector Control; Sustainable Management of Land and Water Resources; Water for Agricultural Production; Development and Promotion of Labour Saving Technologies including Appropriate Mechanisation; Improved Access to High Quality Inputs and Stocking Materials; and Accelerated Production of Selected Strategic food security crops like cassava.
Thirdly productivity growth without significant improvements in marketing is an opportunity lost. Farmers in Uganda need to be assisted to participate in higher value-added market chains than they can at present.
Finally and most significant, Farmer organisations need be assisted to achieve capacity and independance necessary to make it politically risky for those who are swindling farmers money and those leaders who are not supporting and promoting farmer friendly policies in parliament and other branches of government.

Rwakakamba Morrison
Secretary General
Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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