Being from good, solid Mhima stock it is no surprise that the President loves his cows. One of his favourite hobbies is lecturing small-holder farmers on how many litres of milk per day his farm produces, and advising them on the best way to take advantage of high food prices. In theory it's great to have a farmer in charge of a country where an estimated 82% of the labour force is engaged in agriculture, although I somehow suspect the President's vast farm is slightly better served in terms of fertiliser, machinery, good seed and all the other farm inputs that are important in raising production quality and quantity.
Given this background, it is not surprising that one of the most common gifts given to the Big Man are cows and other types livestock. It appears, though, that despite the much-awaited oil billions soon to pour into the Government's coffers, these gifts are to be auctioned for state funds. I wonder whether this has more to do, however, with the his love of pure breeding and the long-horned Ankole cow (see right). In a fascinating (yes...) New York Times article on the rare cow, the author argues that its leanness and low cholesterol levels make it perfect for meat export. The President concurs in this passage:
At one point, a reporter asked if the ranch had any Holsteins. “No, those are pollution,” Museveni replied. “These,” he said, referring to his Ankoles, “the genetic material is superior.”
The 'polluting' and often-sick Holsteins do have one great advantage though. They can produce over 20 times the amount of milk as an Ankole cow. For a dairy farmer in Western Uganda that is too good to ignore and as such the Ankole cow is an endangered species.
News of the auction reminded me of another one of my favourite Museveni-the-farmer moments, this time in a Vanity Fair profile of development economist Jeffrey Sachs. The transcipt speaks for itself:
"Yeah," says Sachs, hurrying to the crucial matter of Uganda's farm productivity. "What we saw in Ruhiira, they're going to get, in maize, six tons per hectare probably. This is really a bumper crop—not just a crop, a bumper crop. And it's because they never had fertilizer before."
Sachs is urging Museveni to launch a nationwide voucher program: offer bags of fertilizer and high-yield seeds to every small-hold farmer in the nation, he suggests. "Go for the big scale," he says dramatically. "Why wait? There's no reason to wait."
Museveni clears his throat. "I use fertilizers once in a while," he remarks, referring to his personal farm, his own situation. "I'm trying to remember: when I grew maize, I harvested 800 bags.""Eight hundred," repeats Sachs, politely.
"Yes, 800. Eight hundred bags. I must have been using like 50 acres. The bag is 100 kilograms."
"That's 80 tons over 50 acres," says Sachs, running the numbers off the top of his head.
"Mmmmm." Museveni, reaching for the calculator on his desk, starts tapping the keys: "That's 1.6 … "
Sachs is way ahead of him. "Times 2.5 would be … " he says, before concluding, "That would be four tons per hectare."
"Four tons?" asks Museveni, puzzled by the figure.
"Per hectare," repeats Sachs.
"Ah, O.K.," agrees Museveni. "That's what I harvested. Yes."
"You're a master farmer: you got four tons," says Sachs, complimenting the president on his crop yield and anxious to return to the matter at hand. "But the average here is less than a ton," he points out, referring to Uganda. "But with fertilizer you get four tons," Sachs adds, hoping to seize the day. "If you had all the farmers quadrupling their yields, do you know what kind of growth that would mean for this country? That's like a 25 percent increase of G.N.P.!"
Museveni has settled back into his chair. As he sips his sweet tea, his response to Sachs is: "Mmmmm." On the wall directly behind his desk is a single framed photograph, of Museveni.