In Summary
  • Most of Uganda’s tourism potentials remain underutilised by both domestic and foreign tourists due to among other factors, the poor state of community access roads, Ronald Mugobera writes.

Majority of Uganda’s population resides in the rural areas where Uganda’s top export potentials-agriculture and tourism are majorly found.

Uganda’s tourism sites are distributed all over the country with majority of them in rural areas where accessibility by community access roads is difficult especially during the rainy seasons. In 2016, tourism earned over $1.37 billion making it the number one foreign exchange earner for Uganda according to the Annual tourism sector performance report for the financial year 2016/17.

Most of Uganda’s tourism potentials remain underutilised by both domestic and foreign tourists due to among other factors, the poor state of community access roads. For instance, most community access roads in the Elgon region become impassable during the rainy season. This makes it hard to access tourism potentials like the different falls, flora and fauna around the Elgon region. The state of poor community access road network around tourism sites is common around all other tourism potentials around the country.

Poor state of roads
The poor state of the community access roads hits Uganda’s rural farmers the hard way. Agriculture is still the mainstay of most Ugandans especially in the rural areas. The sector employs over 69 per cent of the country’s population, accounts for over 26 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and one of the top foreign exchange earners for the country alongside tourism. Among other benefits of the agriculture include food security, maintaining low inflation as good performance of the agriculture sector keeps food prices low, among others.

Some of Uganda’s foreign exchange earning crops grown in the rural areas include coffee, maize, beans, cotton, and simsism. These combined earned the country $3,219.725 in the period 2014 to 2018. Over the same period, animal hides and skins earned the country $287.179 in foreign exchange. Besides these, cottage industries in the rural areas are potential employment opportunities for the youths.

Despite the numerous benefits from agriculture, the sector remains engulfed in a multiple of challenges among which is the poor community road network. This leads to inability of farmers especially in the rural areas to access markets in time which leaves them counting post-harvest losses.

During the heavy rain seasons, rural road bridges are washed away and roads become impassable which disconnects farmers from potential market areas. This affects both the rural farmers and urban dwellers. For the rural farmers, failure to transport their agriculture produce to markets affects their income inflows. For urban dwellers, it leads to food scarcity due to limited food supply to meet the urban food demand hence driving food prices up.

Farm gate prices in the face of the poor community road network are driven very low as middle men maximise on the vulnerability of the “immobile” rural farmers. The immobility of the rural farmers is caused majorly by the impassable community access roads. Additionally, it affects the agro-industrial sector as agricultural raw materials fail to get to the industries for processing or value addition.
Over the recent past years, government has invested highly in the country’s road sector-majorly roads (highways) connecting major towns and boarders with neighbouring countries which is commendable.

However, the state of most community access roads where the majority of the citizens reside remain in a sorry state. Community access roads link rural farmers to market places, facilitate movement of other rural community services and factors of production, and ease movement of tourists. With the poor state of the community roads, rural farmers and other citizens in the rural areas remain excluded from Uganda’s road infrastructure investments.

Well maintained community access roads are needed to complement tarmac roads to make the rural dwellers benefit from transport infrastructure developments. These will among other benefits facilitate quality service delivery in other sectors for instance education and health sectors which among other factors aid in enhancing rural socio-economic transformation.

Government through the Uganda Road Fund and the respective local governments should focus on improving the quality of rural community access roads so that these can complement the major tarmacked roads. This will raise the amount of agricultural produce from rural areas reaching potential markets and ease both domestic and foreign tourism. This has positive spillover effects to the entire Ugandan economy.

The writer is an economist at Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group.