It is an undoubted fact that agriculture has the potential to contribute to sustainable and broad based economic growth in Africa. However, this promise is thwarted by the incessant reliance on nature’s rain, which unfortunately, has become precarious because of the changing pattern of the global climatic conditions. To avert this, it is a long held and proven view that the only solution to this conundrum is to irrigate.
At the recently concluded 6th Press Plenary at Hotel Africana, the State Minister of Finance – Planning, Hon. David Bahati was asked, how different the 2017/18 annual budget would from the previous ones. He said irrigation would be prioritized to promote agriculture.
“The budget has earmarked shs 70 billion for irrigation,” Mr. Bahati said. A decision, clearly emanating from a number of Ugandans being food insecure as a result of depending solely on rain fed agriculture.
The efforts by the government are welcomed because agriculture is central to the economic and social wellbeing of the country and irrigation is an important vehicle in attaining the much needed increase in productivity. However, the investments to the sector ought to be carefully calculated if we are to receive sustainable returns for and in the future. The small and large dams are quite the investment.
Another important factor to consider is the line Ministry mandated to take lead on irrigation between the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal industry and Fisheries (MAAIF). Both Ministries have provisions for water for production, MAAIF with an allocation of shs 67 billion and MWE with shs 23 billion. Basing on the policy framework and infrastructure already existent under the MWE, it is logical that it handles the irrigation investment. The question of local content ought to be taken seriously as many of these large infrastructural projects are aimed among other things at providing employment and incomes for young locals.
Whereas irrigation is a viable solution for increased agricultural productivity, it’s not the silver bullet that solves all the problems in the sector. Asia did but also improved on infrastructure as well as other corresponding factors and as a result experienced insurmountable rates of growth. It is pertinent that investments in irrigation are properly targeted and accompanied by complementary improvements in other agricultural inputs like the use of fertilizer, environmentally friendly pesticides and herbicides, low cost technologies and extension services for the farmers. The agricultural sector requires streamlining to eliminate duplication tendencies and the government needs to augment its financial contributions complemented by the political will to ensure success.
Winnie Watera works as a Programme Associate at Parliament Watch Uganda