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Country profile - Uganda


Once known as 'the pearl of Africa', due to its substantial natural resources, Uganda has seen exploitation of its agricultural potential impeded by dictators and civil war. More recently, Uganda has made significant progress, becoming increasingly peaceful, stable and prosperous. However, ongoing conflict in the north of the country has resulted in poverty levels remaining nearly twice that compared to the rest of Uganda.


Agriculture is a core sector of Uganda's economy and the largest employer. Over 80 per cent of women are employed in the sector and contribute about 75 per cent of agricultural production. Plantains, cassava, sweet potato and maize are major subsistence crops. The major export crop is coffee, but tea, tobacco and cotton are also important.

While some steps are being taken to provide insurance against crop failures, access to finance for smallscale farmers is limited. The high cost and limited availability of improved farm inputs, including hybrid seeds and post harvest technology, over-stretched extension services, poor transport networks, a lack of market information, inadequate production and post harvest facilities, and weak value chain linkages all hinder and frustrate subsistence farmers.

Agriculture is a core sector of Uganda's economy (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Agriculture is a core sector of Uganda's economy
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Despite the enormous progress in poverty reduction, about 40 per cent of all rural people still live below the poverty line; the poorest regions being in the north and north-east, where civil conflict has severely disrupted the lives and agricultural production of small farmers. When relative peace returned in 2006, the task of rebuilding the region's agriculture sector began, with the distribution of seeds, livestock and tools. Many organisations have also provided training to pass on agricultural skills to a generation of young people who have grown up in protected camps. With many people returning to their homes and finding that boundaries have been moved and entire swathes of land have been grabbed, resolving conflict is also a major challenge.

Livestock are an important element of the livelihoods of many Ugandan households. But despite increasing livestock numbers of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry, livestock productivity has declined due to cattle rustling, disease outbreaks and lack of pasture. The dairy sector has also been hampered by low prices for milk, high costs for veterinary drugs and transportation problems. The potential for increased exports exists, particularly to South Sudan, but inadequate disease control and the absence of processing infrastructure limit opportunities to export beef and dairy products.

Fish exports are the second largest export earner (© WRENmedia)
Fish exports are the second largest export earner
© WRENmedia

Having attained high quality and safety standards for production and export, fish exports are the second largest export earner for Uganda. But catches are declining due to destructive fishing methods, over-fishing, non-compliance of regulations and weed infestation due to pollution. Government statistics indicate that while catches from Lake Victoria are dwindling, fish populations in Lake Edward and George are almost extinct.

Poor management of natural resources has also affected forests, soils and wetlands, resulting in declining agricultural yields. Dwindling forest cover has been attributed to increasing demand for agricultural land and fuel wood from a rapidly growing population and weak enforcement of land use policy. But forestry also supports the economy through the sale of timber, ecotourism, honey, herbal medicines and rattan-cane. In addition to promoting re-forestation and afforestation, the government is also attempting to enforce forest and environmental laws and regulations, and strengthen networks to enable participation in the global carbon credit market.

A fragile sector

The coffee sector is also almost entirely dependent on smallholder farmers (© Sarahemcc/Flickr)
The coffee sector is also almost entirely dependent on smallholder farmers
© Sarahemcc/Flickr

Uganda is one of the world's major Robusta coffee producers but some Arabica is also grown, primarily on the slopes of Mount Elgon and Mount Rwenzori, and coffee contributes between 20-30 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings. The sector is also almost entirely dependent on smallholder farmers, who generally intercrop coffee with food crops such as bananas and beans. Old trees coupled with poorly managed and leached soils result in low yields and quality. Since the 1990s the industry has also suffered from coffee wilt disease (CWD). According to the Uganda Coffee Development Agency, 50 per cent of the overall Robusta coffee tree population has been infected by the disease and has died. The industry has also suffered from unstable coffee prices on the world market, which has caused farmers to abandon or uproot their trees. A rise in farmgate prices in the last five years has, however, stimulated demand for coffee plantlets.

Increasingly volatile weather, blamed on climate change, has also begun to impact coffee growers and prolonged drought and unpredictable rainfall are beginning to cause problems. In 2010, major flooding near Mount Elgon destroyed 60,000 coffee trees and killed almost 400 people. Rising temperatures have also been linked to the spread of coffee pests and diseases. In Eastern Uganda, for example, coffee leaf rust, a fungus previously only found at lower altitudes, is moving up Uganda's mountainsides.

A plan of action

The government is working to strengthen the national agricultural research system (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
The government is working to strengthen the national agricultural research system
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

According to Uganda's latest National Development Plan, sustainable economic and social development largely depends on exploitation of the country's environmental and natural resources. But increasing degradation of these resources, coupled with climate change, is seriously impacting Uganda's development and the livelihoods of millions of people. The government has therefore concluded that investing in agriculture to achieve higher growth rates is the most effective way of reducing poverty.

To tackle these challenges, the government is working to strengthen the national agricultural research system, provide farmers with quality advice, improve detection and control of pests and diseases and encourage more sustainable land use and better management of soil and water resources. Plans are also underway to rehabilitate and establish irrigation schemes, rehabilitate rural infrastructure, improve access to markets, strengthen farmers' organisations, and improve regulation and enforcement of food and safety standards to enable greater levels of export.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Uganda
  • Capital: Kampala
  • Area: 241,038 sq km
  • Population: 34,612,250 (July 2011 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 3.6% (2011 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 53 (2011 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Banganda 16.9%, Banyakole 9.5%, Basoga 8.4%, Bakiga 6.9%, Iteso 6.4%, Langi 6.1%, Acholi 4.7%, Bagisu 4.6%, Lugbara 4.2%, Bunyoro 2.7%, other 29.6%
  • Languages: English (official), Ganda, Luganda, other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Swahili, Arabic
  • Inflation: 4% (2010 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$42.15 billion (2010 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$1,300 (2010 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 23.6%; industry: 24.5%; services: 51.9% (2010 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 21.57%; permanent crops: 8.92%; other: 69.51% (2005)
  • Major industries: sugar, brewing, tobacco, cotton, textiles, cement, steel production
  • Agricultural products: coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, cassava, potatoes, maize, millet, pulses, cut flowers, beef, goat milk, poultry
  • Natural resources: copper, cobalt, hydropower, limestone, salt, arable land, gold
  • Export commodities: coffee, fish, tea, cotton, flowers, horticultural products, gold
  • Export partners: Sudan 15.3%, Kenya 10.2%, Rwanda 8.5%, Democratic Republic of the Congo 7.8%, UAE 7.7%, Netherlands 6.4%, Germany 5.4%, Belgium 4.1% (2010)

With contributions from: Grace Musimami

Date published: February 2012


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