Prosper Maphosa is the General Manager of Amatheon Agri Uganda, a large scale farm with more than 12,000 acres of cultivable land in Nwoya District in northern Uganda.
Founded in 2013, Amatheon is one of the largest grain producers in the country. The company employs state-of-the-art farming technology. They own three branches in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Uganda with headquarters in Berlin, Germany.
The company is among the large scale farmers that have benefitted from the emergency intervention by the government of Uganda towards bridging the gap of vegetable oil requirements in Uganda. They planted 1,700 hectares of soybean and 750ha of sunflower from the subsidised seed provided under the Naads programme.
The intervention aims at providing quality subsidised improved seeds of sunflower and soybean. The objective of the programme is to stimulate sustainable growth in the oilseed markets by encouraging small farmers to sell in bulk through cooperatives as well as increasing production with large scale farmers. The Shs9b project has Naads distribute seed, expertise and extension services to agribusinesses and farmers at a cost-sharing model.
In the short term, Naads is facilitating procurement of 500MT of soybean seed 3N and 6N from seed companies. The seed, worth Shs3b, is estimated to plant about 20,000 acres with an estimated yield of 24,000 MT. For sunflower, Naads is supporting cooperatives and large scale farmers with 75 tonnes of seed to establish 37,000 acres expected to yield 37MT. This is expected to yield an equivalent of 14,800 MT of sunflower oil for domestic and industrial use.
Amatheon mainly produces maize, rice, soya, sunflower and sorghum. They also have chilli, chia, moringa and cashew nuts.
“Our model is to produce,” Maphosa notes during an interview.
“The moment you want to do everything, there will be losses along the chain,” Maphosa says.
But the question remains whether large scale farmers such as Amatheon need such incentives from government.
“Yes they do,” Khadija Nakakande, the communications manager of Naads, affirms.
“They [large scale farmers] have the land, technology and capital. If you are looking to step up, you need large scale farmers,” she argues citing Amatheon’s ability to plant 250 acres of seed per day through mechanisation.
Uganda is a food basket in the region with cultivable soils and conducive climate. Most areas receive two rainfall seasons. The biggest bottleneck has always been production affected by poor quality seed, fertiliser and the unstable market.
To Maphosa, when production is at full capacity, there will be food everywhere for the community.
“It is the first of its kind for me in this region for the government to work with large scale farmers. They normally work with small and medium scale farmers. When the government starts to work with large scale farmers, it means large areas will be utilised,” Maphosa says.
Willy Okot, the General Manager of Aber Kamdini Area Cooperative, Lira District argues that smallholder farmers need more of the push simply because they have the numbers.
The cooperative is among the 29 cooperatives in Acholi and Lango sub-region that received sunflower and soybean seed through the oilseed intervention.
“Naads and other development partners should continue giving us a push. Models that work for the smallholder farmers are welcome,” Okot said.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 500 million smallholder farming households, a cohort of agriculturalists amounting to more than two billion people.
William Matovu, the Heifer Uganda Country Director believes ending poverty and hunger begins with smallholder farmers who are at the heart of agriculture. Matovu says that with the right knowledge, tools and inputs, farming families can earn what he calls a sustainable living income and supply their communities with food.
Approximately 7.4 million households operate agricultural land or rear livestock, according to the Annual Agricultural Survey 2018.
These farmers, contributing 80 percent, seldom use production inputs, pray for rains to come and water their crops and operate on a subsistence basis.
Smallholder farming systems often rely on household labour to meet production needs, and they typically retain a portion of their harvest for household consumption.
The key long-standing challenge of smallholder farming is low productivity and limited commercialisation that has frustrated the full utilization of the productive potential of agricultural innovations in the country.
Matovu says that tailoring interventions that meet the productive investment needs of smallholders can drive investment to the rural economy.
Quality seed is one key area where government needs interventions and subsidy.
“The cost of seeds is quite high if you look into the market systems. Soybean, for instance, ranges from Shs6,500-8,500. But with the Naads programme, the seed is at Shs6,000 but the farmer only pays 30 percent, which is about Shs1,800 per kilo. So, there is a lot of saving. It boosts the farmers to increase the capacity,” Maphosa says.
Why smallholder matter?
Though the land smallholders work and the total quantity they produce may be dwarfed by their larger, industrial counterparts, their impact on the world is anything but minimal: According to recent research, farms smaller than five acres produce roughly 35 percent of the world’s food, and smallholders provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in sub-Saharan Africa.
Timothy Njakasi, an organic farmer at Kasenge Riverford in Mukono District, says smallholders can be really productive.
A study examining smallholder agriculture in 57 developing countries, found that when sustainable agriculture was adopted, average crop yields increased by 79 percent. Also, sustainable systems were found more diversified, with yields often composed of more than a dozen crops and various animal products, generating higher yields per ha.
Higher yields mean increased household food security and higher household income, especially when money is saved through less fertiliser and pesticide use.
He maintains that well-managed smallholder systems invest in building soil biomass and soil vegetative cover, which improves water filtration in case of floods and moisture retention in case of droughts. Through reduced fossil fuels dependency and energy requirements, as compared to large mechanised and inputs dependant farms, smallholder traditional practices also mitigate climate change through reduced emissions and enhanced soil carbon sequestration.
“By maintaining terraces, cover trees and constant feeding of the soil, consumers are provided with healthy food,” Njakasi says.
The former extension worker adds that smallholder farmers need to be equipped with adequate knowledge and skills for value addition, adequate financial capacities to purchase, and use the right inputs which limit their ability to increase productivity and access the markets.
When smallholder farmers produce a higher quality and quantity of food, they can earn more income, better feed their families and provide more food for the local marketplace — reducing prices and improving diets.
When smallholder farmers organise — into cooperatives, associations, self-help and women’s groups — they increase their access to markets, can participate more equitably in local value chains, and bolster their bargaining power to earn more for their products.