INTERVIEW: Rwakakamba on Bio Fuels and Food Security

health geneva; font-size: small;”>CR: Activists say increased production of biofuels will lead to increased food insecurity. What is AfT’s stand on the Biofuel production vis-à-vis food security? What do you consider as the positives and negatives of biofuels? Is it viable for a developing country like Uganda, which normally is faced with food shortages to undertake large scale production of biofuels?


The relationship between biofuel production and food security is largely perception based. It is so because biofuels have both food insecurity and food security causative links.

For example, since crop production is driven by yield and acrage developments, production of biofuels compete with food crops for arable land and such changes in land use may have adverse results.

It therefore follows that increased production of biofuels generally leads to substitution of core agricultural resources like land, water, labor, fertilizer etc.

From food crops and this vehemently results in food insecurity. Food scarcity also means high food prices.


However, if you look at some biofuel crops like soybeans or sunflower, they are usually planted at the end of growing season or towards the end of the rain season or after harvesting main food crops such as maize and rice.

The implication of this is that farmers will have their main food crops first and then have their biofuel or energy crops for extra incomes to improve their food security.

Therefore, the link between the foregoing perceptions lies in putting in place a clear and consensus policy and law on renewable energy that would guarantee a useful co-existence of both food crops and biofuels to contain food insecurity and energy insecurity in Uganda and Africa.

As an Agency that focuses on farmer empowerment and competitiveness, we consider food as basic and first line of security for farmers and the Country and our primary demand in regard to biofuels is that Government hastens the policy and regulation of biofuels.

Such a policy should be formulated and implemented with involvement of farmers.

CR: What measures has Agency for Transformation put in place to guard against side effects of biofuel industry on food production?

First of all, small holder farmers in particular have not taken on biofuels in huge proportions. Few farmers are engaged in production of biofuel crops like Jatropha, caster beans, soya beans and sunflower.

As for cotton farmers and sugarcane out-growers we continuously seek to engage sugar cane millers and cotton ginners to have farmers benefit from royalties that accrue from use of cotton seed for biofuel and bagasse from sugar cane for energy.

We are of course oblivious of side effects or negative effects that biofuels can have on environmental integrity of the country and food security.

This is why, we encourage farmers to grow food security crops like cassava, engage in production of biofuel crops like caster beans and sunflower during off season, and those farming Jatropha to target barren lands for production.

Preservation of environment and ecological integrity of Uganda is central to Agency for Transformation principles; this is why we consider as unsustainable actions that seek degazzatement and destruction of forests for planting palm oil or sugar cane, unabated destruction of riparian wetlands and degradation of key ecosystems in the country.

By mobilizing the core agency of farmers across the Country, we will be able to meaningfully stave off side effects biofuels on food production.

CR: Where (which country) can we cite that has been hit by food shortages yet it produces biofuels?

MR: I only know of Myanmar where the Military government leader Than Shwe in 2005 ordered a national drive to plant jatropha, a poisonous nut he hoped would be the cornerstone of a state industry that would capitalize on growing world demand for biofuels. To achieve the foregoing, he forced farmers to stop growing rice for jatropha.

Even in cities and townships people were forced to grow it in their yards and along roads. Myanmar will now take decades to jump out of food insecurity and poverty.

The lesson for Uganda here is that policy by slogan and top heavy mechanistic methods of work can destroy a country. As the Agency for Transformation we call upon government and other actors to involve farmers and general citizenry in renewable energy policy formulation, implementation and monitoring to avoid the Mynamer escapade.

CR: If the Agency for Transformation believes biofuels will affect food productivity, which other renewable energy sources can you suggest as the way forward?

There are a myriad renewable energy sources like biomass where residues from crops-tocks and forests form a feedstock for combustion leading to a powerful energy source. Researchers are also pointing to elephant grass, softwood and cassava waste as cellulose based plants that can produce bioethanol.

I for example know of farmers in Rakai and Mukono who are using agricultural waste to manufacture charcoal briquettes as a sustainable source of household energy. The foregoing is partly where the way-forward lies.

These options have a huge supplemental role to governments’ efforts at powering villages through the rural electrification program. However, with the right and deeply consultative renewable energy policy and law in Uganda, biofuels may not affect food productivity.

CR: Rapid population growth versus food security in Uganda:
According to Agency for Transformation, what is food situation in Uganda i.e. how food secure or insecure is the country (any reports you can provide)?

Over the last 13 years, agriculture productivity has been dwindling from 7% to 1.3% and now to around 3% growth. As such agriculture sector contribution to GDP is 21% as of 2009.

This is happening at a time when the country is experiencing unprecedented population with fertility rate at 7%. This means that every year there is over a million more mouth to feed.

Therefore, once you have a situation where food production fails to match or exceed population growth you have chronic food insecurity as a result.

According to FAO the number of households considered food insecure has increased to 124,000 in the Acholi region, up from 86,000, and to 32,000 in Teso, up from 12,000. In Karamoja, the numbers of people who are food insecure are approximately 615,000.

If you factor in malnourishment, the numbers double. To this extent therefore, Uganda is still food insecure. Uganda will have to double investment in farmers and agriculture to avert this. Agriculture needs affirmative action through the national and local government budgets.

CR: What do you consider as the leading causes of food shortages?

Uganda has immense potential to achieve a food secure status. This will be possible if as a country and as a people we focus on increased financing for the sector, invest in restoration of our environmental and ecological integrity, put in place a strategy to contain adjuncts of climate change, revamp health of our soils, resolve the issue of land policy to guarantee ownership and user rights of land by farmers, remove barriers to markets by investing in market infrastructure and linkages, open up community access roads to link producers to markets, clean up input markets and guarantee rights and access to seed, shift to a more predictable farming systems as opposed to chance based agro systems that feed on rains to survive.

We have to invest in value addition, and support collectivism- these are some ofinvestments necessary to have a food secure and prosperous nation state.

CR: What is Agency for Transformations’ view on the rapidly increasing population in Uganda vis-à-vis food security? I.e. how will the population increase affect food security?

Uganda has one of the highest fertility rates and one of the fastest growing populations in Africa. The current population growth rate is 3.2%, compared to the world’s average of 1.2%.

At The Agency, we think that the size of the population perse’ should not cause discomfort. What should concern us is the quality of the population.

For instance having a skilled and inspired population in farming would have an indelible positive impact on the agriculture sector and transformation in real terms of our country.

However, the rapid growth of low quality population in such a short time can have serious implications for Uganda’s aspiration to evolve as a middle income economy over the next 25 years.

The current population growth and fertility rates that are not in consonance with requisite resources have serious implications for food security, energy security, water security, housing security etc.

Therefore a rational policy and interventions that addresses the balance between population growth and proportional sustainable resources and technologies is important. And such syndication should inform this raging debate.

C.R: How is the rapidly increasing urbanization likely to impact on food security?

Principles of classical economics project to us a thinking that increase in population and urbanization translate into massive demand for food stuffs and products and as such the new found demand would induce supply. The interplay of demand and supply would also mean increased production and spread of wealth amongst the population.

Such a population would be cushioned from food insecurity. This ideal situation would occur if we have requisite policies, inspiration, strong / organized farmer groups, infrastructure and skills in place. Our government and other actors must focuss on this to ensure food security.

The other aspect is that such urbanites must be have meaningful disposable income if they are to drive agriculture growth in the rural. The issue of young people shunning agriculture for bodaboda and the service sector is increasingly becoming contentious.

I think a young person is more attracted to riding a motocycle and making some daily income than holding the hoe that will make him or her take six month to generate a miserable and unreliable income.

Therefore Youth will get attracted to agriculture once government puts in place a package of incentives that makes farming profitable and less muscle power based.

As The Agency for Transformation, we promote young farmers through involving them in leadership at the highest level, training them in time tasted on farm practices and policy advocacy positions that integrate youth interests.

CR: Last word?

I think, producer organizations need agency to govern markets and achieve capacity and independence necessary to make it politically risky for those who are swindling farmers’ money and those leaders who are not supporting and promoting farmer friendly policies in parliament and other branches of government.

Morrison Rwakakamba

Chief Executive Officer – Agency for Transformation

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