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Uganda Earns Big From Organic Agriculture

Written by Rukondo Haam, CEO Rhamz International

The Agribusiness Development & Management Centre in Uganda

Uganda, the pearl of Africa, has taken important steps in transforming conventional agricultural production into an organic farming system, with significant benefits for its economy, society and the environment. Organic Agriculture (OA) is defined by the Codex Alimentarius Commission as a holistic production management system, which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It prohibits the use of synthetic inputs, such as drugs, fertilizers and pesticides. An Agribusiness Expert in Uganda shared with our reporter the future of organic agriculture in the Banana Republic (Uganda).

Why Organic Agriculture?

Perhaps the most unique feature of Uganda’s organic agriculture is the high coordination, involvement and commitment from all stakeholders in the organic sector. From public institutions including the Ministries of Trade, Agriculture, Uganda Export Promotions Board, Uganda National Bureau of Standards, Uganda Coffee Development Authority, Cotton development Organization, the President’s office, to private institutions (all under the umbrella of NOGAMU) these include farmer`s associations, export companies, NGOs, CBOs, and private Universities. There is a high spirit of working together among all stakeholders under the public private partnership arrangement. Due to Uganda’s geographical location, a wide range of organic products can be grown in the country throughout the year. These could be looked into two categories: i.e. these largely targeting the export market and the other grown or processed targeting the local/domestic and regional markets. The local market crops range from staple foods like plantains (locally known as Matooke), millet, cassava, local and exotic vegetables and fruits, juices, honey, to processed and livestock products like eggs.

What are the Facts and Figures?

Uganda has one of the fastest growing organic certified lands in Africa. The products grown organically and sourced from Uganda include cotton (lint, yarn and finished garments), coffee (Arabic and Robusta), sesame (simsim), dried fruit (pineapples, apple bananas, mangoes, jack-fruit), fresh fruits (pineapple, apple bananas, passion fruits, avocadoes, papaya (pawpaw), ginger), jack-fruit, , vanilla, cocoa, fish, shea butter and shea nuts, bird eyed chilies, dried hibiscus, honey and bark cloth. These products are exported to Europe, USA, Asia and other parts of Africa among others. The numbers of organic exporters in Uganda has been growing and are fully certified or in conversion, from internationally accredited certifying bodies operating in Uganda.

Currently, Uganda has over 400,000 internationally certified organic farmers, the first and second largest certified farmers in Africa and world over respectively. The highest number is found in India. Uganda had the world’s 13th-largest land area under organic agriculture production and the most in Africa. By 2013, Uganda had around 350,000 hectares of land under organic farming covering more than 2 percent of agricultural land. There are 44 certified export companies. Member organizations are over 500 in Uganda and outside the country. The value of trade less organic turnover is currently over US$37 million per annum. The demand for organic products from Uganda is high about US$600 million.

Uganda uses among the world’s lowest amount of artificial fertilizers, at less than 2 percent (or 1kg/ha) of the already very low continent-wide average of 9kg/ha in Sub Saharan Africa. The widespread lack of fertilizer use has been harnessed as a real opportunity to pursue organic forms of agricultural production, a policy direction widely embraced by Uganda. According to International Federation of Agriculture Movement (IFOAM), the global market for organic foods and drinks is estimated to be around US$50 billion, and increases by 10- 20 per cent annually. This sub-sector provides a unique export opportunity for many developing countries, owing to the fact that 97 percent of the revenues are generated in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) countries, while 80 per cent of the producers are found in developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a significant producer of organic products, Uganda benefits from an important source of export earnings and revenue for farmers. In terms of price premiums and income for farmers, the farm-gate prices of organic pineapple, ginger and vanilla are 300 percent, 185 percent, and 150 percent higher, respectively than conventional products.

What is the Policy Environment for Organic Agriculture?

On the policy side, in 2004 the Uganda Organic Standard was adopted, while in 2007, as part of the East African Community, Uganda adopted the regional standard, the East African Organic Products Standards (EAOPS) developed under a joint UNEP-UNCTAD initiative. In July 2009, the government released a Draft Uganda Organic Agriculture Policy. The draft policy describes the vision, mission, objectives and strategies to support the development of organic agriculture as “one of the avenues for delivering self-sustaining growth as it provides mechanisms for individual farmers to improve productivity, add value and access markets which are keys to achievement of the Poverty Eradication Action Plan objectives”.

The strategy put in place to implement the policy is based on interventions in nine policy areas: the promotion of organic agriculture as a complementary agricultural production system; the development of a system of standards, certification and accreditation; the promotion of research, to enable technology development and dissemination; support to the development of local, regional and international markets for organic products; the generation of information, knowledge and skills through education and training; the improvement of post-harvest handling practices, preservation, storage and value addition; the sustainable use of natural resources; and participation of the special interest groups such as women, youth, and the poor and vulnerable.

Conclusion

Uganda has taken an apparent liability – limited access to chemical inputs – and turned this into a comparative advantage by growing its organic agriculture base, generating revenue and income for smallholder farmers. Through organic farming, Uganda not only gains economically, it also contributes to mitigating climate change, as Green House Gas (GHG) emissions per ha are estimated to be on average 64 per cent lower than emissions from conventional farms. Various studies have shown that organic fields sequester 3–8 tonnes more carbon per hectare than conventional agriculture.

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