MY story of the week to do with Israel and Uganda last week was the one The New Vision ran quoting Bishop Dr. Edward Muhima and citing his realisation that Israelis had carried soil from Uganda back to the Palestine region (I had to get that in there) to improve their own soils and make their agricultural production successful.
I still can’t believe that the headline wasn’t a play on ‘Blessed Soils in the Holy Land’.
I first visited the nation of Israel as an impressionable youth collecting many life-changing memories, one of which stands out often in my mind and has recurred again in the dust raised by the visit of Bibi Netanyahu.
It started with the excitability of the guide chaperoning our group of Africans, and the driver of the bus we were travelling in to go and visit a kibbutz.
As we drove past a mountainside, rain began to fall in amounts that did not impress most of us visitors to the Holy Land from sub-Saharan Africa.
The Israelis in the bus, however, were beside themselves at the occurrence, and launched into chatter in their native language, and then even song! They calmed down after a while to explain that they had not seen rain in about three years, hence the excitement.
In passing, our guide, an elderly fellow at the diplomatic rank of Ambassador and whose army rank I cannot recall right now, mentioned that we had to speed past the mountain in order to escape a possible avalanche because these rare rains were known to cause rivulets that brought down large chunks of mountain.
By the time we arrived at the kibbutz I was still musing over how the Israelis initially focused more on the excitement over the sudden rains than the risk of painful death from the run-off.
Those musings were swept away when we saw the size of the fruits and vegetables at the kibbutz and heard the amounts of money that Israel as a nation fetched from agricultural exports. The figures, in tens of millions of United States dollars, did not make sense to me.
My deep confusion could be well understood when considered against the fresh revelation that the country (or, at the very least, that region we were in) had not had rain for years, and the one I had come from had had an abundance of the stuff for ages without ever announcing such figures (in excess of US$20billion that year alone).
It was even more confusing that in that year we, in Uganda, reportedly had more than five million hectares of arable land available compared to Israel’s 300,000.
With no rain, the Israelis were exporting billions of dollars worth of fruits and vegetables (and animal husbandry products). How? By using Irrigation, fertilisers, mechanisation of agriculture and other things that I had heard about in school about ten years before I had made that trip.
Now, more than fifteen years since I made that trip and one week after Netanyahu and his people visited, we have headlines such as, ‘Dry spell irks Masaka farmers’ and other cries of woe regarding rain and dry spells.
Still holding memories of the massive sizes of fruits and vegetables being produced in the small gardens in the kibbutz we visited back then, I read this week about how farmers are cursing the ‘dry spell’ that we have had for a couple of months and how “hundreds of thousands of residents may face hunger if nothing is done”.
We are neither stupid nor ignorant, but it is hard to do the mathematics and arrive at a logical conclusion – harder still if you throw in stories such as the 2014 one in which the government of Israel announced that it had tripled its intake of students going to Israel to study agriculture on scholarship. That year, the students were tripled from 41 to 120 – never mind that back in 1962 Israel granted 150 scholarships to Ugandan students in medicine and agriculture, and we have been sending them in such good numbers every year since.
In fact, on my trip back then I quite randomly bumped into three Ugandans – two visiting from the Ministry of Agriculture, and a third from a hospital here (she is now a doctor practicing in the United States.)
Where are these students and why aren’t they in places like Masaka and northern Uganda warding off the threat of “hundreds of thousands facing hunger” or getting our agriculture exports from US$240million up into the billions, considering that we have thousands more tonnes of the very soil that Israel uses?
I don’t know, but I will be asking a gentleman called Issa Agaba Mugabo, who was described as the Regional Program Coordinator of the Agro Studies Programme in Eastern and Central Africa, in this article about Ugandan students going to Israel to study agriculture.
I will be asking him, shortly, to publish the full list of the students and their whereabouts so that we can consult them on our own private agricultural projects, or for the government to assign them to district programmes such as NAADS and whatnot.
There is no shortage of them, even from the last two years alone since 198 went in 2014 and 226 were going in 2015 (presumably including the 120 paid for by the Israeli government). Plus, according to Mugabo’s speech at the flag-off ceremony last year, the Ugandans always excel during the courses, meaning that we should have the best performing agricultural experts in Africa, learning from the Israel experience.