In a system where a social safety net is a dream, the tendency to opt for the ‘self-service’ option is a route many of you have and shall continue to choose. We have observed a trend in the choice of retirement income projects. Many people, including the youth, are going into farming either as primary or alternate employment, and ultimately retirement income fallback – it’s a means of earning some kind of pension before we die. It’s commercial agriculture (agri-biz) that we are discussing here. This is good news, for a country like Uganda whose economic base is mostly agriculture, albeit, subsistence in nature. We are doing the obvious and what we understand – right?
Indeed one is spoilt for choice when it comes to so-called agri-biz projects in Uganda. We have witnessed all sorts of ventures – from aquaculture, breaking the land to grow vegetables, maize, soybean, and growing animal fodder (grass) for sale as hay. This is all good news especially since ‘policycrats’ charting a sustainable development roadmap for mother Uganda, have identified the need to invest in the commercialisation of agriculture as one of the prerequisites to moving in that direction. Even If this attempt at commercialisation is driven by the people themselves, and not institutions like quangos as well as the nation-state – let it be.
“And If the citizenry opting to self-help, some out of desperation and fear, is a matter of policy failure at the nation-state level, we won’t discuss that on this blog, as the Effectiveness lab is apolitical. Let the political type amongst you deal with that on other fora.”
On the surface, the move into agri-biz all looks good, as finally, Ugandans venture into what we know, is one of the very few practical solutions to transforming the economy away from peasant agriculture – and ultimately deliver sustainable economic growth.
At the Effectiveness lab, we are no experts in development economics. As a matter of fact, we aren’t even ashamed to write on this blog that we are novices in this subject. But what we are explaining isn’t nuclear physics. Indeed, we should desist from the temptation to ‘academicise’ African development problems. If it’s first things first, the first things on this are pretty basic – that even my illiterate uncle in Nakabugu, Mr Bulaimu Isuubwe, had worked this out – only that he couldn’t articulate the same in the ‘Queen’s language…’
Yet, right in there lies the problem: the Effectiveness lab opines that investing in the ‘commercialisation’ of agriculture vs commercial agriculture itself, are two different things. The former is a prerequisite for attaining and sustaining the latter. It’s akin to building a strong foundation, for a house worth the name. Many of us build houses and wonderful ones at that, but without a viable foundation. It’s all weak and bound to tumble at some point.
And this is happening with the craze to commercialise agriculture. People who mean well, and it’s many of us, are going into this with eyes closed. And we don’t even know that the eyes are closed. It’s the blind not appreciating that they are blind and embarking on journeys that require spectacular vision ability.
“Farming is a science or skill that should be learnt. But, because many Ugandans are born into farming families, mostly subsistence and at best quasi-commercial, we assume that we know what it takes to farm successfully – well, not commercially. Successful commercial farmers pass this skill on across generations. Children take years learning skills from their parents. Others have gone to school to learn commercial farming.”
Exposure of the incomprehension of basic investment tenets by the schooled in Uganda
“As usual – either out of desperation/fear/worry/panic/hopelessness which in Uganda is more common amongst the schooled, ignorance, the need to sanitise ill-gotten wealth, scramble to cater for a rainy-day in our old age – many of us are climbing the mountain from the top when it comes to partaking of the newly found investment fallacy – commercial farming.”
Something for you to understand before you venture into commercial farming
So – let us put one matter to rest here. The investment in the system/process to commercialise agriculture (and yes, it should mostly happen at the national level as a state project or public-private partnership) is different from investing in an actual commercial agriculture venture like a farm of whatever stuff that is of interest to you. Let us not mix the two, and by the way, one should precede the other.
The system/process game has to be played and concluded first – it’s the backbone to viable agri-biz. The system places on the continuum, vital agri-biz enablers that no one individual can deliver on their own. Moreover, without them, and at the right spot and time, your farm revenue is eaten into. For example, and not necessarily in linear order: parts of farming value-chains dealing with seed development, multiplication and farmer collectives that act as seed distribution vehicles, skilling mechanisms for crop farmers, procedures/rules/guidelines on critical inputs like agro-chemicals, the use of technology including the famous ‘genetically modified stuff’ etc., farmer extension support system, marketing pathways, etc. are all critical success factors in crop farming.
All these things and more, need not only be available to the commercialising crop farmer but have to also be housed under workable delivery systems. Effective and efficient access has to be assured. For example, if seed multiplication was to be done, who is best placed to guarantee access, quality and price-fairness to the farmer in Nakabugu? Who plays the same role at the regional level (if there is anything like that in Uganda these days) and then national level?
When the above enablers are in place and institutionalised [read: working in a seamless and self-sustaining manner, hopefully as a result of market forces of demand/supply, and not subsidies and grants be it by the nation-state or as usual, our generous friends in the West] farmers can actualise commercial farming practice.
If farming supplies or inputs are accessible and in close proximity to the farmer, farmers don’t have to eat into their small income margins to provide extension support to themselves. Doing the latter is taking on too many things and takes attention away from attainable critical success factors. They are also spending on things competitor farmers in national, regional and global markets aren’t spending on – comparative advantage killers.
The ideal is a support mechanism that is available 24/7 and with the right quality and price. The latter is equally applicable to all other types of commercial farming. If you don’t have these enablers packaged and housed under an appropriate framework, forget commercial agriculture. You are throwing money in a bottomless pit.
Don’t venture into commercial farming if:
- First, you don’t have the passion for this ‘dirty’ science
- You haven’t been schooled in the science of whatever farming type you want to venture into
- You don’t have access to a farming extension service system – private or government
- You don’t have a realistic business plan
- You aren’t willing to go for the long game
So, while Uganda is majorly an agriculture-focused country, and we automatically farm in most homes, successful commercial farming requires deliberate skilling. In addition, there are system/process-factors you don’t control at the individual farmer level, however much you want to do so, but are critical to success.
Are you sure that commercial farming is your retirement thing?