“Clunk, clunk, clunk”, my boss walks into the office looking immaculate as always. High heels, a traditional Ugandan dress (not with the weird shoulder puffs though), yellow earrings, a rose carnation wrapped around her middle finger on her left hand, and a matching piece of cloth that serves as a hair tie. She has been in the office since 6:30 this morning and left the office no earlier than 7:00 the previous evening. This lady is amazing: she works all day every day. In fact, the other day she walked into the office and told a co-worker, “I considered your proposal while I dreamt last night. We must work it later”. Never have I come across a group of people so dedicated to their work.
Even still, some work place activities appear to happen on the fly. Whereas in Canada you might be briefed about upcoming meetings days or even weeks in advance, here in the world of the NGO things happen quickly – or at least that’s how I perceive things. For example, ten minutes ago I was sitting in the office working on a paper concerning intellectual property rights and seed sovereignty. Now I am sitting in a car with my boss and three other co-workers on the way to discuss a World Bank project proposal with Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI). Ask Rachel, I am actually on my laptop as we speak.
One thing that I’ve learned in my short tenure with FRA is that sometimes you just have to roll with it! I am sure that these meetings have been in the works for days, if not weeks, but as an intern I learn things on a need to know basis. I realize that it is not my job to know where I will be in ten minutes time, but rather to enjoy the ride and learn as much as I can along the way.
In a few minutes from now we will discuss a brand new project proposal. The World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) is looking to fund (to the tune of US $800 000) social accountability initiatives and programs from Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to increase farmers’ access to agricultural extension, advisory services, and agricultural inputs. By doing so, the programs will empower farmers and enhance their ability to “identify linkages between advisory services, inputs and technology grants”. Additionally, the programs will undertake approaches that result in the “CSO’s increased capacity to implement social accountability.” Holy crap that is a lot of development jargon. Basically, FRA and its partner organizations are trying to develop a program that will give Ugandan farmers a louder voice. Louder voice = more attention from government; more attention from government = better agricultural policy making –> people less hungry. And my role in all of this? Sit, listen, research, write, repeat.
As the car pulls up to a small jam my boss purchases two different newspapers from a vendor walking up and down the crowded streets. She finishes her lecture to Rachel on the importance of iron for girls of her age and then digs in to the front page story whilst the jam clears. As we continue to bump along Kampala’s congested roads and it dawns on me that most people back home have no idea what I am doing here. When people hear that you are going to Africa, their first assumption is that you are going to save the world. They assume that you, the Westerner, are going to selflessly volunteer your time to help build a school in a poor village or nurse an orphan back to health. The image below should look pretty familiar to most of you.
I’d like to be as clear as possible on this one: I AM NOT DOING ANY OF THAT! Rather, I am the recipient of a scholarship that funds university students to undertake “cross-cultural exchanges encompassing international education, discovery and inquiry, and professional experiences.” Most of my work in Uganda is focused on the latter, namely as an intern at Food Rights Alliance. In case any ambiguities still exist, I would like to reiterate that I am not here to: ‘save’ Africa, build a school, or volunteer in an orphanage. I am not here for purely altruistic reasons and I understand that I am taking much more away from my host NGO than I could ever give. I am here to: learn about food security policy in Uganda, gain a better understanding of advocacy strategies, improve my research and writing skills, add value where I can, and use my Political Science/International Development Studies education as a basis for my day to day tasks.
As an intern at FRA, my day to day assignments include: writing analytical statements, reading/writing policy briefs, conducting background research so that my superiors can do their job more efficiently, proposal/concept note writing, editing, editing, editing, and attending meetings. My nationality does not put me in a better position than a Ugandan to conduct these tasks; however, my interest in international development might.
Instead of boring you all with another long rant about international volunteering, I’ve decided to let my work speak for itself. Below is an analytical statement that Rachel and I co-authored last week. The statement outlines FRA’s position on Uganda’s 2015/16 budgetary allocations to the Agricultural Sector. Although the statement was authored by me and Rachel, please note that we are not necessarily expressing our personal opinions, but rather those of FRA. Rachel and the FRA Secretariat staff has been nice enough to allow me to include this statement in my entry.
The Honourable Minister of Finance announced on June 11th, 2015 that the total approved budget for Uganda’s 2015/16 Fiscal Year (FY) is Ush 23,972 billion. Of this, the Honourable Minister has allocated a mere Ush 479.96 billion to the Agriculture Sector. The Agricultural Sector’s share of the total budget pales in comparison to other sectors’ allotment. For example, the Defense and National Security Sector alone has been approved for Ush 1,632.89 billion. The aforementioned statistic is striking given the fact that the Agricultural Sector comprises 66% of Uganda’s total workforce, contributes nearly one third of Uganda’s total GDP, and produces nearly half of Uganda’s exports (FRA Strategic Plan, 2014).
The Honourable Minister of Finance and His Excellency the President maintain that a robust Defense and National Security Sector is a necessary condition for maintaining food security. In their view, the Agricultural Sector cannot thrive unless large budgetary allocations are granted to defence and national security. In fact, His Excellency the President was quoted saying: “If you say that defence is not connected to agriculture, then I invite you to go to Somalia to start a coffee farm”. However, while Food Rights Alliance agrees with His Excellency in that food security and national security are inextricably linked, we disagree with the Government’s prioritization of these sectors.
Food Rights Alliance believes that food comes first – and everything else later.
With this, FRA is of the opinion that while a robust Defense and National Security Sector is certainly a sufficient condition for food security, food security ultimately remains a necessary condition for the maintenance of national security. Therefore, FRA believes that the Agricultural Sector has not been allocated an appropriate amount of funds in the 2015/16 FY budget. Our assertions are supported by the evidence provided below.
FRA believes that freedom from hunger and access to adequate food is a fundamental and inalienable human right. On Friday May 29th the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) Report for 2015. The SOFI report states that, although the share of undernourished people in developing regions has decreased from 23.3 percent in 1990-92 to 12.9 percent in 2015, the amount of undernourished people in East Africa remains at 31.5 percent. In fact, in Uganda alone 37.73 percent of the population is living in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty consequently contributes to the fact that 21 percent of Uganda’s population is classified as undernourished.
In light of these statistics, it is evident that action to eradicate hunger urgently needs to be taken in the East African region. According to the SOFI Report, the eradication of hunger can only be pursued if “all stakeholders contribute to designing and enacting policies for improving economic opportunities [that ensure] the protection of vulnerable groups”. Similarly, the President of the International Food and Agriculture Department, Kanayo F. Nwanze, stated:
“If we truly wish to create a world free from poverty and hunger, then we must make it a priority to invest in the rural areas of developing countries where most of the world’s poorest and hungriest people live…We must work to create a transformation in our rural communities so they provide decent jobs, decent conditions and decent opportunities. We must invest in rural areas so that our nations can have balanced growth and so that the three billion people who live in rural areas can fulfill their potential.”
These two statements in concert point directly to the need for increased public investment in agriculture in this case East Africa. Unfortunately, the 2015/16 FY budget counteracts the spirit of progress needed to eradicate hunger in East Africa as outlined by the SOFI Report. As mentioned above the total budget sits at Ush 23,972 billion, well above last year’s figure of just over Ush 15,000 billion. Despite the budget being almost double what it was in 2014/2015, the money allocated to the Agricultural Sector remains at Ush 479.96 billion. This is a mere fraction of what it must be to achieve the 7 implementation measures the government lays out in paragraph 56 of the budget.
An additional concern is that the agricultural budget has remained largely stagnant in recent years. In fact, the sector has not received more than 4 percent of the government of Uganda’s financed budget in any of the financial years since 2000. This figure directly contradicts Uganda’s commitment under the Maputo Declaration to allocate 10 percent of its annual budget to agriculture. Similarly, under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), Uganda promised to reach a recommended growth target of 6 percent for the agricultural sector, but in the 2010/11 Financial Year the sector grew at a rate of only 0.9 percent. The latter statistic is directly connected to the insufficient level of funds allocated to agriculture per annum.
FRA is of the opinion that the insufficient level of funds allocated to the Agricultural Sector in the 2015/16 Financial Year Budget will curtail the potential of the Sector in several ways. Firstly, the budget in its current state will negatively affect research institutions like the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). Like other research institutions, NARO is heavily reliant on financial resources to continue their research and mitigate the challenges facing agriculture in Uganda. These challenges include, but are not limited to: outbreaks of crop diseases (like the Xanthomonas bacteria found in Matooke), climate change shocks, and the effects of prolonged droughts. Moreover, a lack of governmental support for the agricultural sector will further discourage youth from engaging in productive agricultural activities such as farming. Given that nearly half of Uganda’s population is below the age of 15, youth disengagement in agriculture is extremely detrimental to Uganda’s food security prospects for the future.
Additionally, a robust and well-funded budget is a necessary condition for Uganda’s Agricultural Sector to enlarge its exporting capacity. Given that Uganda’s Balance of Payments (BOP) deficit BOP deficit grew from 7.2% in 2013/14 to 8.5% last year, FRA believes that investment in agriculture is essential to mitigating the negative macroeconomic implications of a large BOP deficit. For example, as outlined in The Report of the Budget Committee on the National Budget Framework Paper for the FY 2015/16-FY 2019/20, Uganda must invest in scanners at border posts to scan agricultural exports. Because there are currently no scanners, the European Union (EU) is threatening to ban agricultural produce that is said to contain pests. Further, there are an insufficient number of agricultural inspection officers stationed at border posts through which agricultural exports pass. The Ministry of Agriculture (MAAIF) requires Ush 12.5 billion to rectify these issues; however, the current budget only allocates Ush 7 billion. As such, Uganda’s foreign trade and BOP will suffer in the long run due to short-sighted budgetary allocations.
Similarly, budgetary shortfalls in the Agriculture Sector have diminished the MAAIF’s ability to fund bureaucratic mechanisms such as the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). In the 2014/15 FY MAAIF restructured the NAADS to create a ‘Single Spine Extension System’. This system allows farmers access to inputs produced by the NAADS Secretariat. MAAIF’s main focus with this project in 2015/2016 is to recruit staff and fill vacant posts in the Extension. However, in order to fund the salaries for these positions, MAAIF requires a total of Ush 55.9 billion. Unfortunately, only 16.9 billion has been allocated to MAAIF in the recent budget. Once again, the Government’s neglect for Uganda’s Agricultural Sector has adversely affected the country’s long-term development.
Uganda also needs to undergo a modernization of agriculture, as they have not invested strategically in irrigation. Two sets of irrigation equipment were donated by Japan last year, but three more need to be acquired in order to help rectify these issues. To do so Ush 8 billion is required, but only Ush 2.8 billion has been allocated. This failure to provide for application of modern technologies negatively affects productivity, and this limited progress greatly hampers value addition and competitiveness of Ugandan products in local, regional and international trade.
FRA argues that the government’s insufficient allocation of funds to the agricultural sector shows a failure to understand the linkages between all areas of the budget. Diminished agricultural capacity, for instance, leads to food insecurity. Food insecurity is subsequently manifested in undernourishment and poor overall health; and poor health results in diminished economic capacity. The Government states in paragraph 251 of Uganda’s Vision 2040 strategy that “[g]ood health is instrumental in facilitating socio-economic transformation”. If the Government is truly committed to creating a healthy population, then they will recognize the urgency of funding mechanisms that allow for food security in Uganda.
Finally, during his reading of the 2015/16 FY budget, the Honourable Minister of Finance announced that Uganda is running a BOP deficit of US $475 million. Indeed, such a large BOP deficit is troubling; however, in light of the most recent budget, the more troubling deficit is not financial in nature – rather it is rhetorical. The deficit between rhetoric and reality is especially evident in the budgetary allocations towards the agricultural sector. For example, the Honourable Minister claims that: “[t]he role of agriculture in the livelihood of most Ugandans, cannot be over-emphasized”, yet the Government continues to under-emphasize agriculture by allocating onlt Ush. 479.96 million to the Sector. It is quite evident that the Government must pay off its rhetorical deficit before it can balance its financial payments.
For these reasons, FRA is of the belief that Uganda’s agricultural potential is greatly limited by this year’s budgetary allocation to its Agricultural Sector. Consequently, the Ugandan people are at a disadvantage when it comes to fully realizing their inherent right to be free from hunger.