|Faridah Nangobi and her family on their sugarcane farm in Kamuli, Uganda/Credit: Send a Cow|
From coffee in Vietnam to sugar in Uganda, governments in developing countries have over the past decades pushed farmers to grow cash crops: they are important to the national economy and they provide jobs. This might be a good idea for farmers who have enough land to grow a variety of crops, but it actually harms smallholders.
Many farmers in developing countries own just a few acres of land, which means that most of their plot, often all of it, is dominated by the cash crop. This dependency on just one crop leaves them vulnerable to crop failures and any fall in the price of commodities. The lack of biodiversity also has a negative impact on the environment.
In addition, because smallholder farmers are no longer growing their own food, the region faces severe shortages and food has to be brought in from other parts of the country at high prices. The money the farmers do make from the cash crop is often not enough to feed their families.
"My children have nothing to eat. My baby just cries and cries. I’m forced to give her vodka so she can sleep,’’ says Faridah Nangobi, cradling her one-year-old baby inside her thatched hut. Like most farmers in Uganda’s Kamuli district, she is growing sugarcane with her husband on their small plot. Outside, her other children stand under a mango tree gnawing on sugarcane. The desperation with which they crush the canes shows that they are not chewing for pleasure: it is their only meal of the day.
“Uganda must enact a policy to limit smallholder farmers from growing sugarcane as it has been shown not improve their lives,” says Patrick Sambaga, Uganda Country Director for Send a Cow, a small international development charity, working with farmers to strengthen the local economy and help them grow nutritious food and build greater gender equality.
“Smallholder farmers must concern themselves with crops that bring in regular income for health care, school fees and food security,” Sambaga adds. “We encourage farmers to grow high value crops like citrus fruits, mangoes, kale, tomatoes, amaranth, garlic, potatoes, passion fruits, and at all times, keep small livestock such as ducks, chicken, rabbits and goats if they cannot keep cows.”
Here is a story I’ve written for the Financial Times’ This is Africa examining how the sugar business system is operating in Kamuli, a major sugar hub in Uganda, and its human toll.