The vast majority of Ugandans have been pleading to God in recent months to send rains so as to avert famine. The cries have arisen because the last season was equally hostile and was characterized by huge losses to farmers due to a prolonged dry spell that scotched crops before they matured.
In a few areas, weather experts have sent warnings that once again the rains will be disappointingly weak and could condemn hundreds of people to famine.
But in this era of climate change and climate variability, such eventualities as drought and floods are expected. The sad bit about drought in Uganda is that whenever it happens, speeches and promises are made by government officers with the view to remove farmers from the bondage of rainfall dependency.
In almost all previous budget speeches, the government has acknowledged the challenges of weather to agricultural productivity and the fight against poverty. Following the 2008 drought for example,the government promised to inject billions of money in supporting water for production.
The 2008/09 budget speech, the Minister of Finance allocated funds towards purchase of seeds, seedlings, walking tractors with standard implements, irrigation and pesticides, as a way of supporting farmers.
To date there is nothing to show for the money or the commitment expressed towards reducing the country’s dependency on rainfall.
The government’s failure to fulfil its promises on irrigation cannot be taken lightly. Droughts lead to famine which kills many people. Droughts also deepen poverty by forcing people to sell their assets such as animals, land to buy food and pay for fees to survive, educate their children or take their family members to hospital.
More worryingly however, is that droughts have a long term impact on the health of children by causing stunting and compromised growth resulting from malnutrition.
This is to appeal to the government, legislators, policy makers and whoever claims to work for the betterment of Ugandans to seriously address the elusive irrigation challenge. Instead of concentrating on discussing their benefits, Members of Parliament should press the government for immediate low cost solutions for smallholder farmers across the country.
There is no excuse for not introducing workable irrigation solutions for Ugandans because our country is endowed with enough water sources but also because the money for workable irrigation solutions is available.
The time for talking and promising is over. Let the president, MPs and all politicians of all shades rise to the challenge of developing irrigation projects because the cost of not doing it is simply too high.