By James Karuhanga

Senior Researcher, Kampala GLCSS

This week, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and director of the Earth Institute, Colombia University, USA, outlined six strategies for Uganda to meet the MDGs. His theme was Uganda’s Economic Challenges: The path out of rural poverty.

In the presence of several government officials, members of the private sector, researchers, academics and George Osborne, the United Kingdom (UK) Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sachs stressed that Uganda needed to make rapid progress on measures to reduce rural poverty.  

‘‘Uganda is not fast enough,’’ he acknowledged, but emphasized his optimism, adding that ‘‘all problems can be eliminated if investments are made.’’  

‘‘I believe Uganda and its donors are under-investing in solutions to rural poverty,’’ he said.

According to Sachs, rural Uganda is stuck in extreme poverty, as evidenced by: low farm yields, low household incomes, severe malnutrition in children, low rates of school completion, poor rural infrastructure and very poor child health.

The MDGs are eight goals – to be achieved by 2015 – that respond to the world’s main development challenges. These are:-

  1. Eradicate of extreme poverty and hunger.
  2. Achieve universal primary education.
  3. Promote gender equality and empowerment of women.
  4. Reduce child mortality.
  5. Improve maternal health.
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
  8. Develop a Global Partnership for development


‘‘Uganda’s farmers have been stuck with low productivity in the past 20 years despite measurable economic growth,’’ he said, pointing out the fact that Uganda’s cereal yields have not improved since 1979.

‘‘This is the base of the poverty because farmers are not producing and yet Uganda is a country dependent on agriculture, he said.’’

He mentioned soil nutrient depletion and lack of improved inputs as the reasons for low productivity, but added that the situation could be changed dramatically in the space of a few years.

‘‘Farmers do not use fertilizers, high yield seeds or small scale irrigation, but the market will not save the poor rural farmers and it never has; they need help. They can’t afford the inputs and they are stuck.’’
Ø      The Big Six in Ruhira Millennium Village

‘‘With donor support, millennium villages can be started throughout Uganda. These can be expanded to millennium districts,’’ he said, calling on Ugandans to ask for donor support and to plan for it as well. ‘‘Economic growth doesn’t cover the wide population in this country,” he said.

Millennium villages and millennium districts form part of an integrated rural investment strategy that Sachs believes can end extreme poverty. Accordingly, a practical transformation in one year requires donor support and government action to continue to push out into the whole country. He outlined six strategies that have worked in Ruhira village – a pilot project in Mbarara district.

  • Grow more food

-          Fertilizers
-          High-yield seeds
-          Treadle pumps
-          Agricultural extension.
-          Landscape management in low scale farms.

  • Control malaria

-          Bed nets
-          Anti-malaria medicines
-          Rapid diagnostic tests

‘‘No child has to die of malaria in this country,’’ he said, citing Rwanda’s malaria control programme as an example of what Uganda should do.

  • Ensure clinical health services

-          Improve clinics (level three).
-          Upgrade hospitals (level four) with improved staffing and salaries for health workers.
-          Training of health outreach workers.
-          Access to family planning services.

  • Provide safe water points

– Boreholes,
– Protected springs,
– Rain water,
– Pumped water if available and,
– Sanitation.

Mr Sachs considered the provision of safe water points to be tricky since every village has its own standard.

  • Ensure schooling for all children

– Classrooms   
– Books and supplies
– Teacher training 
– Mid-day meals (Sachs urged the implementation of school feeding programmes and de-worming every four months and promised to help in accessing free medicine for Uganda.)
– Computers
– Internet connectivity in some schools

‘‘I want to congratulate the government for announcing universal secondary education,’’ he said

  • Connectivity to break isolation

– Cell phone coverage at clinics, schools
– Truck transport
– Broadband connectivity
– Road grading

The GLCSS observes that the success of these strategies will require massive effort and resources. In terms of economic development, Uganda needs support more than ever before.

It is also worth noting that Sachs’ prescription falls short of addressing corruption as a serious impediment to meeting the MDGs. The GLCSS maintains that MDGs will be met in a sustainable manner by addressing corruption.

During a recent national budget preparatory workshop, development partners expressed concern about corruption.

The donors noted: “Public funds are being misappropriated at all levels of government, as detailed in the Inspector General of Government’s report to Parliament, the Auditor General’s reports and the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Global Fund.” They called for urgent action to combat this problem.

Ways of ensuring environmental sustainability – another crucial MDG – should equally be addressed. Integrating the principles of sustainable development into Uganda’s policies and programmes and reversing loss of environmental resources is equally important.

A fast-increasing population, unpredictable weather conditions and security problems in some parts of the country must also be tackled to ensure sustainable growth and development.

As reported last year (GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 22 September 2006), Uganda is facing demographic pressure. The growing population has led in part to reduced per capita income, affected domestic savings and has had a serious impact on Uganda’s forest cover over the past decades. It will be difficult to maintain natural resources, an issue already seen in the reclamation of marginal lands and deforestation.  

‘‘At about 3-3.5 percent population growth rate, the country is experiencing a population doubling every generation but I haven’t noticed the land doubling every generation,’’ he observed. He warned that since fertility rates have not declined for decades, ‘‘at a rate of 7.1 percent growth, it would become a world catastrophe’.’

Another issue raised was Uganda’s health crisis. ‘‘Health spending is completely inadequate,” said Sachs, claiming that the biggest inducement to reducing population growth could be the halving of child mortality within 5 years, a goal he said was achievable, but which Uganda was not on target to reach.

Dr. Ezra Suruma, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MFPED) agreed with much of what Sachs said.

‘‘Most of the government strategies fall in line with Professor Sachs’ team’s,’’ he said, but pointed out one area where their approaches diverge.

‘‘Sachs’ model says aid comes from outside but we don’t see the resources,’’ Suruma explained. He said his ministry had not cut the health budget but donors had cut down on their budget support. The GLCSS observes that continued cuts on donor support will only worsen the country’s rural poverty situation.

‘‘The donors cut their assistance for health from 139 billion shillings last year to only 45 billion shillings in the coming year,’’ Suruma explained. 
A completely inadequate health budget – largely because donors have heavily reduced assistance to Uganda – has led to the present health sector constraints.

‘‘You can’t spend money you do not have but you can’t let people die also,’’ Sachs agreed, while appealing to donors for help.
William Church is director of the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank with offices in Central and East Africa. You may contact William Church at GLCSS trains African journalists, offers an on-site internship to foreign African studies students, and manages an exchange program with journalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.


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