Uganda uses among the world’s lowest amount of artificial fertilizers, at less than 2 per cent (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.
Economic, social and environmental benefits of organic farming in Uganda
In Uganda 85 per cent per cent of the population was engaged in agriculture production, contributing to 42 per cent of the national GDP and 80 per cent of the exports earnings in 2005/06. As early as 1994 a few commercial companies began deliberately engaging in organic agriculture. At the same time in Uganda, there was a general movement in the agricultural sector towards developing sustainable agriculture as a means of improving people’s livelihoods.
By 2003, Uganda had the world’s 13th-largest land area under organic agriculture production and the most in Africa. By 2004, Uganda had around 185,000 ha of land under organic farming covering more than 2 per cent of agricultural land, with 45,000 certified farmers. By 2007, 296,203 hectares of land were under organic agricultural production with 206,803 certified farmers. This constitutes an increase of 359 per cent in terms of number of farmers and 60 per cent in terms of acreage, respectively, from 2002 to 2007.
According to IFOAM, the global market for organic foods and drinks is estimated to be around US$50 billion, and increased by 10- 20 per cent annually between 2000 and 2007. This sub-sector provides a unique export opportunity for many developing countries, owing to the fact that 97 per cent of the revenues are generated in the OCED countries, while 80 per cent of the producers are found in developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
As an significant producer of organic products, Uganda benefits from an important source of export earnings and revenue for farmers. Certified organic exports increased from US$3.7 million in 2003/4, to US$6.2 million in 2004-2005, before jumping to US$22.8 million in 2007/8. In terms of price premiums and income for farmers, studies commissioned by UNEP and UNCTAD indicate that in 2006 the farm-gate prices of organic pineapple, ginger and vanilla were 300 per cent, 185 per cent, and 150 per cent higher, respectively than conventional products.
Through organic farming, Uganda not only gains economically, it also contributes to mitigating climate change, as 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 ha than conventional agriculture.
Policy and systemic change to transform Uganda’s agricultural sector
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.
In sum, 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