By Brian Handwerk
Informal organic production methods have been the way of many Ugandan farmers for centuries—thanks to remarkably low levels of fertilizer use. Even among African nations, where use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers is low, Uganda’s farmers stand out.
Certified organic production, with regulated use of natural techniques like crop and grazing rotations, natural pest predators, livestock waste fertilizers, and compost, didn’t take off in Uganda until the 1990s. Uganda’s private sector promoted the practice through the efforts of the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), an association that unites organic farmers, processors, exporters, and organizations to promote and develop the sector.
And organic farming also drives growth in productivity that allows farmers to get the most out of every inch of soil—a huge boon in Uganda where 95 percent of the nation’s farmers work less than 10 acres, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Animals Industry, and Fisheries. A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) joint study on transitions to organic agriculture and productivity gains found that across Africa the increases in yields were 100 percent, and in East Africa up 125 percent, after moving to organic production.
“The green economy is important to Uganda; it creates a lot of opportunities to create wealth for different actors from farmers to traders in a way which is more sustainable, in a way that can protect the environment,” said Musa Muwanga, the CEO of NOGAMU, during a UNEP-UNCTAD film project aired at UN Conference on Least Developed Countries in Istanbul, Turkey.
The same film project shared the experiences of Vincent Ssonko, an organic pineapple farmer in Uganda.
“The main benefit I’ve had from organic agriculture is an increase in income. I’ve been able to educate my children, and I’ve also been able to harvest enough food to feed my family.”
“The main benefit I’ve had from organic agriculture is an increase in income. I’ve been able to educate my children, and I’ve also been able to harvest enough food to feed my family,” Ssonko said.
Not all of Uganda’s organic products are shipped overseas. NOGAMU runs a shop and a delivery service in the capital city to supply a modest but growing demand from local homes and hotels. Local organic favorites include staple foods like matooke (steamed bananas), millet, cassava, local vegetables, fruits, and juices, and livestock products including eggs.