Monday, December 21, 2009

Uganda: A Banana Republic

According to Wikipedia, Banana Republic is "a pejorative term for a country that is politically unstable, dependent on limited agriculture (e.g. bananas), and ruled by a small, self-elected, wealthy, and corrupt clique." On all accounts Uganda seems to qualify, but at the moment let us focus on the second definition.

Agriculture is the most important sector of the Ugandan economy, as 89% of the population is rural. The sector accounts for 51% of GDP, 90% of exports, and employs 80% of the population. The country is blessed with a good climate and fertile soils and the agricultural sector has the potential to feed the country, to supply food for the regional market (Uganda is often referred to as East Africa's food basket), and to act as a powerful engine of growth. But bananas -a staple food and export- are in trouble. Bacterial Wilt (or BXW) hit Uganda in 2001, destroying most plantations and causing losses of an estimated $35m (sh57b). "BXW is the most serious threat to banana production in East Africa,” says Wafa Khoury, a plant pathologist and agricultural officer in the Plant Production and Protection Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s commitment to grant $74,000 to sponsor a planned Pan African banana conference in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa is being praised by African banana farmers, despite the controversy surrounding the foundation's spearheading ($30 million endowment) of Africa's potentially devastating Green Revolution. In a Sept 2009 article in The Nation magazine Raj Patel warns us of past Green Revolution destruction...

"Beyond the massive displacement of peasants, the Green Revolution wrought other social damage--urban slums sprawled around cities to house displaced workers, pesticide use went up, groundwater levels fell and industrial agricultural practices began racking up significant environmental debt."

Read more about BXW and Banana Wilt in the Crested Journal.

And the Gates Foundation's Green Revolution in the The Nation article.

...and let us know what you think.

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