In September last year, Godfrey Ssekankya, a prominent coffee farmer from Miseebe, Bulera sub-county Mityana District, had high hopes of getting a good yield from his coffee farm come round this harvest season starting April. The sense of optimism arose from the heavy flowering he witnessed, coupled with good rains that ensured the flowers would bear fruits.
But when I met him last week, Ssekankya was distraught. All his hopes had evaporated because of the short but intense December to February dry spell that befell most parts of central Uganda.
As coffee farmers will tell you, prolonged lack of moisture prevents the coffee fruits from forming beans, the stuff that is processed and then roasted to make the aromatic beverage.
In areas such as Bukomero in Kiboga District, this year’s dry spell has been particularly devastating to the extent that coffee trees dried up. And the loss of a single coffee tree, especially for smallholder farmers, can be heart-breaking, considering that it takes more than three years and a lot of hard work and money to raise it up to the time it starts to yield.
Eddie Kitakule, a coffee buyer in Miseebe, estimates that the current drought will likely cut coffee yields by about 50 percent, a major blow to economically constrained households who rely greatly on the cash crop to meet most of their needs. And as the last drought showed, a bad harvest affects the entire economy, including sectors such as schools, commerce, the construction sector, among others.
Kitakule told this writer: “The coffee out-turn [the percentage of coffee beans from a 100 kilogram bag of raw coffee], is likely to be between 35 and 40, this time. This is very low compared the average of 65% that we realize in normal seasons.”
As a result of the adverse effects of the 2016 dry spell, Uganda’s GDP growth experienced a mere 3.6% growth far below the 6 percent that had been anticipated. The Ugandan economy is still struggling to recover, despite steps by the Central Bank to encourage more lending to the private sector – including offering record low levels of interest rates to commercial banks.
But the increased occurrence of drought conditions in recent years, which experts attribute to Climate Change, has made farming, not only for coffee, but also for other crops, a particularly stressful and loss-making business.
The latest dry spell is adding misery to farmers across Uganda who survived the 2016-long dry spell that devastated the entire country and pushed more than 11 million people in starvation.
Despite the severe effects of the 2016 prolonged dry spell, many experts have blamed the Uganda Government for lacking a solid and sustainable plan, especially on supporting irrigation, to prevent the slide back into the dangerous situation.
It is the lack of tangible actions to prevent Uganda from suffering from the effects of Climate Change, such as, drought and floods that has earned the country unfavourable ratings. It has rendered futile the self-assessment governments from across the African Continent made about the implementation of the Malabo Declaration – a set of re-commitments on agricultural development that was endorsed in 2014. Malabo declaration was the successor to the Maputo Declaration agreed ten years earlier but failed to be fulfilled.
Following the biannual report, three well-regarded organizations; CARE International (CI), the Graça Machel Trust (GMT) and the Food, Agriculture Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), have called on governments to mainstream Climate Change adaptation in agriculture into national development planning systems and structures.
Under the self-assessment mechanism of the Malabo Declaration, only about 20 countries are reported to have met the 10% investment in Agriculture as shown by the bi-annual review of the Malabo Declaration.
Considering the central nature of Agriculture to the economies of the continent, AU member states renewed their Maputo commitments in 2014 but with a new set of targets including on climate-resilience and nutrition.
The new focus on the need for climate-resilience in agriculture emerged as a critical target thanks to new evidence about the effects of Climate Change on the industry in general and the economies as a whole. This is mostly because the effects of Climate Change have far-reaching implications on hunger, poverty, malnutrition, and health, perhaps the four most important development challenges facing humanity as identified by the United Nations under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The results of the self-assessment have been described as disappointing, particularly on climate adaptation. For example, nearly all African countries, with the exception of Mauritius, failed to meet their commitments on implementing climate resilient strategies for agriculture.
The insufficient attention being paid to climate-resilience efforts by African countries has attracted uncharitable remarks from the Deputy Managing Regional Director of CARE International for Southern Africa, Michelle Carter. She has said: “The future of agriculture depends on the management of Climate Change.
There is need for national investments that are targeted at efforts that address the threats to food and nutrition security within the context of the changing climate. It is therefore disappointing that only one country [Mauritius] is on track on the commitment to enhance resilience to climate variability.”
She added: “We are hopeful that governments will implement recommendations to improve adoption and uptake of climate resilient agriculture by smallholder farmers especially women.”
The three organizations urged countries to particularly pay attention to the link between agricultural investments and nutrition, stressing that failure to fight malnutrition threatens to undermine economic growth. Under the Malabo Declaration, African countries agreed to eliminate child malnutrition by bringing down stunting to 10% and underweight to 5% by 2025.
Official statistics indicate that Uganda has made considerable progress on reducing stunting from 33% in 2011 to 24% in 2016. But the figure puts Uganda in an unfavourable light on the Continent.
The number of underweight children also remains very high at 10% in 2016, according to UNICEF’s 2015 Situation Analysis of Children of Uganda Report.
In the end of it all, failure to meet the Malabo commitments by African governments appears to be the most vivid indictment and not just on the agricultural sector as the sector influences so many other aspects of life.