Rebuilding Uganda: the lowly hoe comes first

Consider the humble hoe. For millions in the third world it is the most sophisticated agricultural tool to which they can aspire. To most African farmers it represents life and a livelihood.

Uganda needs 6 million hoes immediately to get agriculture back on its feet. Farmers with small holdings are desperate, using worn-out hoe blades, even hoeing with hands and bits of wood.

It is no exaggeration to say that the post-Idi Amin agricultural revival in Uganda is held up by an acute shortage of hoes.

Two factories that used to manufacture hoes collapsed during Amin's regime. The former leader concentrated on arms, not agriculture, and there was no foreign exchange left to import steel to make the hoe blades.

The price of hoes rose by 400 percent, putting them beyond the reach of the small farmer.

Farming makes up two-thirds of Uganda's gross domestic product and 90 percent of its exports. The small farmer is responsible for 90 percent of the crops overall and much of the export coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, and sugar.

Hoe help is on the way for Ugandans. Appeals for the tools have gone out to the world's aid agencies. Hoe factories are being rehabilitated by the US Agency for International Development, which is locating steel for 750,000 hoe blades. Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands are looking for more.

The European Community is sending 1 million hoe blades, and Australia and West Germany plan to send 175,000 each.

The United Nations Development Program has contracts with Chinese, Danish, and Norwegian firms, which will send 250,000 blades each to Uganda.

Much of this activity is coordinated through the UN Capital Development Fund, which is scouting for funds to transport 375,000 hoes from Mombasa Harbor, where they have been held since Amin's rule. The Uganda Cooperative Movement plans to distribute the hoes.

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