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Today, 83% of Ugandan households are considered food secure, but the country is a vital exporter of agricultural products to neighboring countries that face food shortages.[i] Most estimates expect substantial decreases in production of staple crops by the mid-21st century as a result of droughts, floods, natural disasters, pests, and diseases caused by climate change. Specifically, bean production could decrease by as much as 70%; sorghum by as much as 25%.[ii] A 2012 study estimates that over 70% of smallholder farmers will be adversely impacted,[iii] not to mention impacts on exports, GDP, and regional food security.
Addressing climate change will require MAAIF to alter its traditional processes and priorities, resulting in potential challenges and opportunities. This includes the need to:
- Focus on climate-change specific mitigation strategies instead of (or in addition to) traditional priorities. In the past, MAAIF stressed improving historically poor farming practices: plot fragmentation; low uptake of improved seeds, chemicals, and fertilizer; soil degradation; and limited storage, distribution, and market access networks.[ii] If new strategies are substantially different, efforts to address existing challenges may decrease, which may ultimately compound adverse effects of climate change. Alternatively, if there is overlap in old and new priorities, the focus on climate change could result in a larger resource base (from the federal government or external stakeholders) to address the current problems. If Uganda moves quickly, there is potential to be seen as a regional leader on this topic, which can attract additional attention and investment, with potential benefits even outside of the agriculture space.
- Set plans and budgets in the face of greater uncertainty. There is no formal understanding of climate change’s impact on specific regions or crops, iii forcing MAAIF to work with less information than previously, when it could use existing yield and rainfall data.
- Dramatically increase intra-governmental collaboration. Effective implementation will require work with the Ministries of Finance and Water and Environment, as well as all local governments. Such overlap represents a departure from the traditional model, and will need new processes and organizational structures.[iv] That said, increased coordination can have a multitude of benefits across this and other Ugandan initiatives and set a positive precedent going forward.
MAAIF has already taken steps to address the impact of climate change on agriculture, including:
- Establishment of national plans. The Country Climate-Smart Agriculture Programme (2015-2025) plan focuses on: reduction of agricultural emissions, transition from rain-dependency to irrigation, creation of weather-indexed insurance packages, development of disaster preparedness plans, increased funding for research, and continued emphasis on historical agricultural priorities.[ii] Additional, shorter-term strategic plans have also been set with more specific interventions prioritized.[v]
- Investments in public goods and farmer technical assistance. For example, over 500 dams have been constructed in the past year to provide water to stressed districts, farmers are being trained on ways they can personally mitigate the impacts of climate change, and extension officers are being recruited to provide technical support to farmers.[i]
- Initial collaboration with external supporting partners. For example, the United Nations Development Programme is providing 4-year technical assistance to MAAIF for work planning and global expertise sharing.[vi] It will be absolutely critical for Uganda to every advantage of these types of capability-building projects going forward.
The above is a heartening start. That said, there is room for MAAIF to enhance their approach through:
- Initiative prioritization. The national plan contains a laundry list of initiatives. Specifically, the emphasis on decreasing Uganda’s own agricultural emissions feels out of place. Although this is noble in theory, Uganda’s emissions are trivial on a global scale. Furthermore, they may naturally increase as the country develops (for example, if market access improves, emissions from transportation of agricultural products will increase), making their targets wholly unrealistic. To be sure, if there are easy wins to be gained here, they should still be done, but curtailing emissions overall ought not be a top priority for this ministry specifically. MAAIF’s limited budget can be better spent improving the scale of other initiatives that do far more to protect the country’s agricultural sector from the impact of climate change.
- Strategic crop diversification. MAAIF has already prioritized crop diversification, mostly for the sake of reducing Uganda’s dependence on a few staple crops in the event that disease wipe out substantial parts of the agricultural base. This is admirable, but MAAIF can be more tactical by specifically prioritizing crops (e.g., millet and banana) most likely to do well under climate change,[ii] specifically in areas where those crops are predicted to thrive best compared to the existing portfolio.
- Intra-governmental collaboration process formation. Existing plans, despite sometimes being written jointly by agencies with responsibilities allocated between them, do not include new processes for intra-governmental coordination. Given the extent of change required for execution of mitigation strategies across agencies, new procedures are likely needed to ensure a successful collaboration.
[i] “Uganda strives to beat climate change impact on agriculture,” ANGOP Angola Press, October 2016, http://www.angop.ao/angola/en_us/noticias/africa/2016/9/42/Uganda-strives-beat-climate-change-impact-agriculture,7869667d-8913-446d-9bf9-43c30d105ee5.html, accessed November 1, 2016.
[ii] “Uganda Climate Smart Agriculture Programme,” Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries and Ministry of Water and Environment, http://canafrica.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/08/3-UGANDA-CLIMATE-SMART-AGRICULTURE-PROGRAMME.Final_.pdf, accessed November 1, 2016.
[iii] Bagamba F, Bashaasha B, Claessens L, Antle J. 2012, “Assessing climate change impacts and adaptation strategies for smallholder agricultural systems in Uganda,” African Crop Science Journal 20:303-316, http://www.bioline.org.br/pdf?cs12047, accessed November 1, 2016.
[iv] Acosta, Mariola, “Getting Uganda’s agriculture plans ready for climate change,” Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/getting-uganda%E2%80%99s-agriculture-plans-ready-climate-change#.WBlC3fkrJEY, accessed November 1, 2016.
[v] Okiror, John F, “Climate proofing Uganda’s agricultural sector,” Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/climate-proofing-ugandas-agriculture-sector#.WBlD6PkrJEZ, accessed November 1, 2016.
[vi] Ayebazibwe, Agatha and Muhwezi, Onesimus, “FAO, UNDP and Uganda Government launch project to integrate agriculture in National Adaption Plan,” Climate Change Adaption, http://adaptation-undp.org/news/fao-undp-and-uganda-government-launch-project-integrate-agriculture-national-adaptation-plan, accessed November 1, 2016.