Can Uganda combat the climate change threat to East African food security?

How should the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) respond to the looming impact of climate change?

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Today, 83% of Ugandan households are considered food secure, but the country is a vital exporter of agricultural products to neighboring countries that face food shortages.[i]  Most estimates expect substantial decreases in production of staple crops by the mid-21st century as a result of droughts, floods, natural disasters, pests, and diseases caused by climate change.  Specifically, bean production could decrease by as much as 70%; sorghum by as much as 25%.[ii]  A 2012 study estimates that over 70% of smallholder farmers will be adversely impacted,[iii] not to mention impacts on exports, GDP, and regional food security.

Addressing climate change will require MAAIF to alter its traditional processes and priorities, resulting in potential challenges and opportunities.  This includes the need to:

  • Focus on climate-change specific mitigation strategies instead of (or in addition to) traditional priorities. In the past, MAAIF stressed improving historically poor farming practices: plot fragmentation; low uptake of improved seeds, chemicals, and fertilizer; soil degradation; and limited storage, distribution, and market access networks.[ii]  If new strategies are substantially different, efforts to address existing challenges may decrease, which may ultimately compound adverse effects of climate change.  Alternatively, if there is overlap in old and new priorities, the focus on climate change could result in a larger resource base (from the federal government or external stakeholders) to address the current problems.  If Uganda moves quickly, there is potential to be seen as a regional leader on this topic, which can attract additional attention and investment, with potential benefits even outside of the agriculture space.
  • Set plans and budgets in the face of greater uncertainty. There is no formal understanding of climate change’s impact on specific regions or crops, iii forcing MAAIF to work with less information than previously, when it could use existing yield and rainfall data.
  • Dramatically increase intra-governmental collaboration. Effective implementation will require work with the Ministries of Finance and Water and Environment, as well as all local governments.  Such overlap represents a departure from the traditional model, and will need new processes and organizational structures.[iv]  That said, increased coordination can have a multitude of benefits across this and other Ugandan initiatives and set a positive precedent going forward.

MAAIF has already taken steps to address the impact of climate change on agriculture, including:

  • Establishment of national plans. The Country Climate-Smart Agriculture Programme (2015-2025) plan focuses on: reduction of agricultural emissions, transition from rain-dependency to irrigation, creation of weather-indexed insurance packages, development of disaster preparedness plans, increased funding for research, and continued emphasis on historical agricultural priorities.[ii]  Additional, shorter-term strategic plans have also been set with more specific interventions prioritized.[v]
  • Investments in public goods and farmer technical assistance. For example, over 500 dams have been constructed in the past year to provide water to stressed districts, farmers are being trained on ways they can personally mitigate the impacts of climate change, and extension officers are being recruited to provide technical support to farmers.[i]
  • Initial collaboration with external supporting partners. For example, the United Nations Development Programme is providing 4-year technical assistance to MAAIF for work planning and global expertise sharing.[vi]  It will be absolutely critical for Uganda to every advantage of these types of capability-building projects going forward.

 The above is a heartening start.  That said, there is room for MAAIF to enhance their approach through:

  • Initiative prioritization. The national plan contains a laundry list of initiatives.  Specifically, the emphasis on decreasing Uganda’s own agricultural emissions feels out of place.  Although this is noble in theory, Uganda’s emissions are trivial on a global scale.  Furthermore, they may naturally increase as the country develops (for example, if market access improves, emissions from transportation of agricultural products will increase), making their targets wholly unrealistic.  To be sure, if there are easy wins to be gained here, they should still be done, but curtailing emissions overall ought not be a top priority for this ministry specifically.  MAAIF’s limited budget can be better spent improving the scale of other initiatives that do far more to protect the country’s agricultural sector from the impact of climate change.
  • Strategic crop diversification. MAAIF has already prioritized crop diversification, mostly for the sake of reducing Uganda’s dependence on a few staple crops in the event that disease wipe out substantial parts of the agricultural base.  This is admirable, but MAAIF can be more tactical by specifically prioritizing crops (e.g., millet and banana) most likely to do well under climate change,[ii] specifically in areas where those crops are predicted to thrive best compared to the existing portfolio.
  • Intra-governmental collaboration process formation. Existing plans, despite sometimes being written jointly by agencies with responsibilities allocated between them, do not include new processes for intra-governmental coordination.  Given the extent of change required for execution of mitigation strategies across agencies, new procedures are likely needed to ensure a successful collaboration.



[i] “Uganda strives to beat climate change impact on agriculture,” ANGOP Angola Press, October 2016,,7869667d-8913-446d-9bf9-43c30d105ee5.html, accessed November 1, 2016.

[ii] “Uganda Climate Smart Agriculture Programme,” Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries and Ministry of Water and Environment,, accessed November 1, 2016.

[iii] Bagamba F, Bashaasha B, Claessens L, Antle J. 2012, “Assessing climate change impacts and adaptation strategies for smallholder agricultural systems in Uganda,” African Crop Science Journal 20:303-316,, accessed November 1, 2016.

[iv] Acosta, Mariola, “Getting Uganda’s agriculture plans ready for climate change,” Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security,, accessed November 1, 2016.

[v] Okiror, John F, “Climate proofing Uganda’s agricultural sector,” Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security., accessed November 1, 2016.

[vi] Ayebazibwe, Agatha and Muhwezi, Onesimus, “FAO, UNDP and Uganda Government launch project to integrate agriculture in National Adaption Plan,” Climate Change Adaption,, accessed November 1, 2016.


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Student comments on Can Uganda combat the climate change threat to East African food security?

  1. Super interesting take on the Ugandan situation, about which I knew nothing.
    It seems like they have already started moving and that they would greatly benefit from implementing your recommendations.

    They are using the resources at their disposal to make improvements (e.g. Government resources and the United Nations Development Programme), but I didn’t see any mentioned of partnerships with private companies. Would that be a possibility in Uganda?

    Also, I worried about the cost of the changes that they need to implement and if they will have sufficient funds to cover these costs. If not, what alternatives do they have to raise money in a sustainable and controlled way?

  2. Very thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing, Leah!

    The drought in the Northeastern region of Uganda earlier this year and the floods in 2014 both underscore the importance of addressing this issue swiftly and successfully.

    (1) 2016 Drought –
    (2) 2014 Floods –

    Given the seriousness and scale of the issue at hand, do you think that the Ugandan government will be able to successfully mitigate the effects of weather patterns on their food production? You mention intra-governmental cooperation but is inter-governmental cooperation feasible given that the Ugandan production of food is critical to surrounding East African countries? In addition, how much assistance will be needed from various global organizations to implement the strategy of the Ugandan government?

    Since the nature of this issue is life or death and the effects of climate change are inevitable, should the government attempt to overcome the “free-rider” problem by demanding assistance from surrounding countries? In addition, should they pursue more drastic solutions for the problem (i.e. figuring out how to import food but make it affordable for the citizens, investing in modified seeds etc.)?

    Thanks again for the post – really enjoyed stepping outside of the corporate discussions!

  3. Leah, thank you for the post. I learned a lot from it. I have looked into climate change and food security in Nigeria and see some similarities with the situation in Rwanda.

    Rwanda may use public-private partnerships to, for example, develop irrigation systems for farm land dependent on rain-fed agriculture. To ensure that Rwandans properly understand climate change, the Ministry of Education may include mandatory classes on climate change in the school curriculum. Ideally, Rwanda should have a fund to support climate change research in agriculture and food security. The private sector should be properly engaged to contribute to such a fund.

    In Nigeria, I found that climate change and food security programs sometimes were mutually antagonistic with government programs. I wonder whether this is the same in Rwanda. If so, a monitoring and deliver unit may be created to coordinate the activities of climate change and food security programs to maximize effectiveness and minimize redundancy.

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