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close this bookGender and the Expansion of non-traditional Agricultural Exports in Uganda (UNRISD, 2000, 66 p.)
close this folder5. Macroeconomic Policy
View the document5.1 The Adjustment Strategy
View the document5.2 Non-Traditional Agricultural Exports Promotion Policies: Potential and Constraints

5.2 Non-Traditional Agricultural Exports Promotion Policies: Potential and Constraints

The economic reforms made with respect to the traditional export crops led to increased output, and to an increasing proportion of export crops marketed though official channels. These changes explain the increase in exports earnings for cotton, tea and tobacco from 1990. However, between 1989 and 1993, just as the policy reforms were taking root, the international price of coffee - by far Uganda’s most important export - collapsed from $1.8 to $0.8 per kg., a decline of 56 per cent. The earnings from coffee fell from $311.2 million in 1987 to the all-time low of $92.19 million in 1992. Had it not been for the reforms to improve marketing efficiency, the entire coffee sector might well have collapsed.

Although coffee prices subsequently recovered, their slump and Uganda’s vulnerability to external shocks of this type created a convincing argument for diversification into non-traditional exports. Apart from tourism and non-factor services, agricultural crops were the next item that could be immediately promoted, as Uganda’s industrial sector suffers from shortages of skilled labour and of both foreign and domestic private investment. The policy package adopted intensified market reform by dismantling the Produce Marketing Board for beans and maize and simplifying export procedures to one certificate issued every six months. The requirement to bring in imports of equal value to exports, called dual licensing, which was intended to reduce capital flight, was removed. Another requirement to channel certain commodities to fill barter protocols, mostly from Eastern Europe, was also removed; this further liberalized the marketing of beans, maize, simsim and soybean. Table 8 indicates the performance of nontraditional exports over a period of five years.

The NTAE promotion strategy has been further developed over the years. It forms a major portion of the recent World Bank country study (World Bank, 1996), which argued that economic growth in Uganda must come from the intensification of agriculture and from the expansion of export crop production, and that diversification of export crops is essential because of the risks inherent in over-dependency on coffee. The World Bank report emphasizes price incentives and the need for public investment in infrastructure to bring about a re-orientation in agriculture toward more export crops. To date, the most important NTAE have been crops that had been traditionally grown as food crops (primarily by women) such as maize, beans and cassava. Together, maize and beans account for almost 70 per cent of NTAE. They are considered low value staples, and are sold in the regional market, as are groundnuts, soybeans and bananas. Vanilla (for smallholders) and cut flowers (on estates) are higher value crops that became new exports for the European market, although their total value remains low.

A 1998 Government of Uganda report argues that the agricultural sector as a whole must move from a predominantly subsistence sector to a commercially oriented one. The document acknowledges that poverty in Uganda is predominantly rural and outlines a sector-wide approach to policy development, spelling out the roles for the public and private sectors. The recently enacted land law, which clarifies rights over land, is considered a major step in social policy that will enhance effective utilization of land. The government points out that agricultural transformation will depend heavily upon investments in other sectors, particularly roads, education, health and good governance. Government would like all commercial activities connected with agricultural production, processing, trading, supply of inputs, exports and imports to be carried out entirely by the private sector. The government’s role in those sub-sectors will be limited to setting rules and regulations.

For food exports, it is fair to argue that the results of NTAE promotion have been more exogenously determined than policy driven. When there is high demand for certain food crops because of famine or war in neighbouring countries, there is an export boom. The World Food Programme has been the most important market for beans and maize, which have been used to feed refugees from the Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo. Sesame experienced a short boom in 1990-92 because of a drought in the Sudan, the preferred source of sesame in the world market. Short booms in pineapples, ginger and chillies have failed to gain sustained markets due to such diverse factors as the Gulf War, rising air freight rates, and inadequate processing technology.

Table 8
Non-traditional exports (NTE), $ million




1. Primary agricultural NTE












Other pulses




Cereals (including maize)




Fruits and vegetables




Cut flowers



Cocoa beans








2. Primary processing NTE




Fish and fish products




Hides and skins




3. Manufactured NTE
















4. Tourism and non-factor services NTE








Transport and other non-factor services




5. Total NTE




6. Unclassified items
















Other minerals




Other NTE




Note: Classified according to commodity characteristics and policy relevance, including tourism.

.. negligible values

Data provided by the Research Department, Bank of Uganda, 1998.

Because most of the crops targeted for NTAE expansion are grown by smallholder farmers in the rural areas, several projects meant to increase smallholder production have been implemented by different government-related departments since the early 1990s. The National Research Organisation (NARO) intensified research into planting materials that resist both disease and drought. A project called Investment in Developing Exports in Agriculture (IDEA) was initiated to provide high-yielding planting materials and to encourage farmers to form business and financial linkages to access markets. An Agricultural Extension Project (AEP) was put in place in 1992/93 to disseminate the research results produced by NARO and to encourage increases in productivity by improving farming practices, using the Training and Visit method. The AEP had a special provision meant to ensure that extension services reached women farmers. However, in order to cut down costs, the scattered smallholders were encouraged to form groups - women and men separately - to access extension services. Between 1993 and 1997, men formed 1,800 groups, youth 300 and women 500. As noted above, women typically avoid joining formal groups, in part due to lack of time and in part due to mistrust of organizers’ motives. This meant that women had far less direct access to the higher quality planting materials and improved husbandry practices than did men.

In these and other efforts to promote non-traditional crops, policy makers have made the assumption that farmers will respond to increased prices with increased output. However, given the rigidities in the agricultural sector and the imperfections in agricultural markets, this supply response is far from certain. Another critique of the NTAE promotion strategy has centred on the risks to food security. These critiques are linked, and both hinge on questions of gender structures and gender roles in agricultural production and marketing. An additional concern is the effect that the structural shift in agricultural production will have on women’s autonomy and well-being.

The supply response debate

Capital is scarce in the smallholder sector, so confidence in the market must be high for farmers to invest in increased production in response to price signals. In fact, as noted above and discussed further below, there is very little confidence in market functioning in rural Uganda. It is difficult for farmers at planting time to estimate the prices their crops will receive at harvest. Past prices are erratic and give little guidance, and farmers may take such price signals as are available to them into account, but as only one of many factors. They must also consider such things as labour constraints, food security and the risks of a poor harvest due to environmental factors.

In addition, smallholder production remains a “low input-low output” type of farming. Efforts to increase inputs have had little success to date, and smallholders’ access to credit and technological inputs remains limited. Even if farmers were to decide to increase NTAE production in response to price signals, therefore, the primary additional inputs into export crops must be land and labour. Although surplus land still exists in some regions, in many cases this would mean switching crops grown on existing land. And, although at certain times of the year there may be underutilized rural labour, seasonal labour constraints are quite severe, especially for women’s labour. Therefore additional labour input into export crops is likely to be at the expense of crops grown for own consumption.

In sub-Saharan Africa in general, the supply response to the price incentives of structural adjustment programmes has tended to be disappointing, and it has been hypothesized that inefficiencies resulting from inequitable gender structures are responsible. This is because women generally supply the majority of agricultural labour, but are much less likely to control the income from agriculture, and would therefore, in theory, be less likely to respond to increased prices with increased production.

Evidence from some other African countries has supported this hypothesis. A study done in Tanzania (Tibaijuka, 1994) established that an asymmetric and rigid division of labour between the sexes leads to allocative inefficiency such that farm output from a given quantity of household labour is less than the full-capacity output this labour is cable of producing. The household operates inside its production possibility frontier because of gender inequities. The household is constrained by gender relations from allocating its labour time to respond fully to the prevailing market opportunities. This reduces potential output and exports.

A gender-focused study in Zambia (Wold, 1997) on non-commercial farmers’ response to price incentives showed that poor farmers respond to higher prices by reducing marketed output. When smallholders face higher prices for all crops, they are able to meet their cash requirements from a smaller marketed surplus, eat better, but market less. This is the negative income effect of a price change for low-income groups in agrarian household models that outweighs the positive supply response to higher producer prices. Overall nutrition status and market opportunities must improve substantially over a long period of time if farmers are to increase marketed output, for the home market and export. This requires breaking the constraints to higher productivity and market access facing producers, including women producers. A second finding from the Zambian study was that when the relative price of a single crop increased, farmers gave a positive supply response; when the price went down, farmers switched to other corps. However, there was a gender difference in the responses. Male farmers responded to the broad range of price changes, while women farmers responded to only some of the price changes because of their cardinal obligation to feed the family.

The policy makers behind the NTAE promotion strategy are to some degree aware of the constraints on the supply response on smallholder farms. It is fairly well known, for instance, that smallholders’ response to price signals tends to be weak (UNCTAD, 1998). The government has acknowledged that, for most rural people, survival depends on food self-sufficiency, and that a monetized lifestyle is foreign. It will thus be necessary, argues a recent government document, to bring about “a massive psychological shift from status to contract relationships” (Government of Uganda, 1998) by means of generating sufficient profitable opportunities for smallholder farmers. According to this document, if smallholders are to be persuaded to diversify into higher valued enterprises, and begin to specialize - which will be the foundation of economic growth - they must be able to trust the markets, especially those for food. They must know that when they need food, at any time during the agricultural year, they will be able to secure it at a reasonable cost. However, policy makers do not show evidence of awareness that they will have to earn the trust of women more than that of men, because it is women who are traditionally charged with responsibility for providing food for the household, and who provide most of agricultural labour in smallholdings. If women cannot trust markets to assure food security for their households, they will not work toward the goal of provisioning through trade rather than through self-sufficiency, no matter how progressive the new approach may sound.

The food security debate

When government policy began to encourage non-traditional agricultural exports, a question arose as to whether the smallholders could grow enough food for export as well as for their own consumption. Local authorities and parliamentarians habitually gave public speeches to the population urging them to store enough food to see them through the periods between harvests. Many smallholders, however, are unable to do this, and it seems that the poor in particular are net buyers of food (World Bank, 1996).

Uganda’s agriculture is rain-fed, and output and domestic prices fluctuate widely in response to rain and drought. Farmers sell food at very low prices during the harvest both out of need and due to lack of efficient storage facilities; food is bought back between harvests at very high prices. Most households grow food for their own consumption and market a small surplus. The households whose food cannot last between harvests face food insecurity. The reduction of household-level food insecurity will require both increased agricultural productivity and an improvement in market functioning sufficient to smooth out seasonal price fluctuations.

Household food security in Uganda is the domain of women (Kyasiimire, 1996). Women play the central role in food production, post-harvest processing, storage and preservation. Most importantly, tradition dictates that women ensure adequate food supplies for the household. Thus, although low returns to labour in farming makes it unattractive to men (Kharono, 1996), women have little choice but to engage in agricultural labour. There is thus a link between the over-exploitation of women’s labour, their lack of bargaining power within the household, and low food and agricultural production. The food security implications of this situation may well be exacerbated by the emphasis on cash crop production, and the lack of a clear policy on food security.

Food insecurity is a problem at the national level as well, with the drought of 1992-93 in particular causing concern. Food shortages are frequent in 16 of the 39 districts, with five districts prone to chronic food insecurity. Irrigation, post-harvest storage, and food imports into land-locked Uganda are far too limited to counteract periodic food shortages due to weather fluctuations. Given that many of the NTAE are also food crops, national food security may be enhanced by their promotion. However, it is far from certain that this will be the case, for several reasons. First, NTAE are not meant to displace the traditional (non-food) exports, thus any increase in total marketed food resulting from NTAE promotion must come primarily from land and labour already producing food; as noted above, land and labour constraints mean that increased NTAE production is as likely to be a result of crop-switching as of increased production. Second, a significant proportion of the increase in NTAE sales noted in table 8 is likely to come not from increased production or even from increased sales, but simply from the increase in the use of official marketing channels, as opposed to the unofficial cross-border trade, particularly in maize and beans, which has gone on for many years (World Bank, 1996). Thus NTAE promotion, if it is to enhance food security, must be done through increasing returns to agricultural labour and land.

NTAE promotion and gender relations

Although very little in the original design of the NTAE promotion policies showed gender awareness, the government has recently been increasing its efforts to acknowledge the role of women in agricultural production in general and in NTAE production in particular. For instance, the MAAIF has produced a “Gender Oriented Policy Document” that proposes to “target” women farmers. The constraints facing women farmers, in particular access to land, time, credit, inputs and information, are more regularly discussed. No systematic integration of gender concerns into agricultural policy had previously taken place, thus the general recommendations now being made appear to be a reaction to the intensive lobbying of Ugandan women, and emerging evidence from the literature elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, that these concerns are indeed relevant for the success of agricultural policy.

The growing awareness of gender issues in policy perspectives mostly centres around the relationship between gender and efficiency. Equity issues, on the other hand, have been little discussed. The implications of the NTAE strategy for changing gender relations has not been explored; the extent to which this strategy may change rural women’s work burdens and reduce their food security has not been examined; and the question of whether gender conflict within rural households and rural communities will be exacerbated has not been raised. To some extent, the problem is one of data availability. While policy makers have specific data on sources of income at the aggregate level, there are no data to indicate the access to and control of such income by different household members or the utilization patterns of the income. While the general nature of the gender division of labour is known, the influence it has on the needs, interests and choices women and men make when they are faced with options is seldom examined. Other gender issues, such as power relations and the effect they have on decision making in different households, or which local institutions most influence women’s and men’s attitudes, are seldom raised.

One interesting study does shed light on some of these questions. Sorensen (1996) looked at the historical trend of increasing commercialization of food crops in Busoga, Uganda, and assessed the effects of NTAE cultivation on the renegotiation of gender in the area. She describes the colonial-era gender division of labour and responsibility as being quite clear-cut. Men cultivated the major cash crops (cotton in this case), although women helped with weeding; women were wholly in charge of the plaintain garden, which provided the staple food for the household. The plantain garden was often divided into two sections: one meant for feeding the household, and one that the wife cultivated for herself, and whose produce she could dispose of as she wished. Men’s and women’s productive spheres were thus separate and complementary, though asymmetrical, with men controlling the majority of household resources. Although women’s economic sphere was relatively limited, they had autonomy within it. Their responsibility for food production was not only a duty, but also a right that gave them access to resources as well as a significant measure of independence.

Rural gender relations began to change with the collapse of formal marketing systems for cash crops in the 1970s and 1980s. Men stopped cultivating cotton because they received little payment for it, and turned to food crops, which they were able to market through informal channels. Rice became the major cash crop, although cassava, maize and millet were also marketed. At the same time, the role of plantain as the primary staple began to be supplanted by cassava, which, although it was a lower-status food, was useful because it could be stored and sold as needed. The distinction between cash crop and food crop thus began to blur, as did the boundaries between men’s and women’s productive activities.

In the early 1990s, marketing opportunities increased, and the distinction between food crops and cash crops vanished altogether, with all crops being sold at times. As the food crops became marketable, men gained control over them. The cultivation of the new food staple, cassava, is no longer exclusively the responsibility of women. At the same time, because cassava is an inferior food to plantain, women’s status as food producers has declined. Women no longer have a traditional right to a plot of land for food production; each woman’s access to land must be negotiated with her husband or male kin. Many women do not work plots independently at all, but only work in fields considered to be their husbands’. Wives’ control over their marketed produce is also no longer taken for granted, but is a subject of negotiation within the marriage. As one man reported with regard to women’s access to resources: “Earlier, the wife had the right of matooke [plantain], but today it depends on the goodwill of the husband” (Sorensen, 1996:618).

Most women in Busoga clearly prefer the old social order because of their relative autonomy within it, although it is evident that living standards - in terms of increased accessibility to consumer goods such as radios, motorcycles and clothes - have increased. But Sorensen argues that it is too early to judge the outcome of NTAE expansion for women. Her conclusions are worth quoting at length:

The change from a complementary system to what could be termed the patriarchal household seems to leave women without formal economic autonomy. Ideal roles are not yet, however, firmly established within the new gender relations. What follows is an intense competition between the sexes over productive resources, with more frequent negotiations in the household now than in the past... [There is a] movement from negotiation on the basis of established roles to negotiation on the basis of not yet firmly established ones. This underscores the difference in the position of [individual] women according to their bargaining potential. Women with strong bargaining potential will be able to evade men’s control and enhance their position, whereas women in weaker bargaining positions will not have this possibility and accordingly will lose control of their own and their children’s lives. Because of the increased importance of bargaining, the social institution of marriage deserves particular attention in further research. It is within this institution that many men and women negotiate the conditions of exchange of goods, incomes, and services (such as labour) within the household (Sorensen, 1996: 619, 622).