Buy land they say, because they are making no more of it.

Well, in Africa, they are.

Increased agricultural production is necessary if we are to meet the global challenges of an increasing population.

Large tracts of land are being opened up across Africa to commercial agriculture for the first time.

This can often be a controversial process, where semi-nomadic pastoral farmers are ushered off their underused traditional lands to make way for industrial-scale farming.

However, for the young farmers I met in Uganda recently, new land is not only desirable, but necessary, if they are to move from subsistence agriculture to successful and sustainable commercial enterprises.

Northern Uganda is a beautiful but harsh place, recovering now from the ravages of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army which terrorised the people of this region for nearly 20 years.

Thousands of people fled their homes and farms, seeking protection for themselves, and in particular for their children, whom Kony wished to enlist as child soldiers.

While GOAL helped provide the basics of shelter and humanitarian assistance in those dark days, our work with the people of Karamoja and Acholiland now is far removed what many Irish people might imagine.

El niño causing drought

This year, due mostly to the extreme drought that El Niño has caused in the Horn of Africa, the World Food Programme will once again have to respond, having to provide emergency food assistance to at least 640,000 people in Karamoja.

The World Food Programme has, tragically, been in Northern Uganda since the 1960s.

While it is right and proper to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need, and GOAL will assist in the response, our main concern in this part of the world now is to break this cycle and help provide people with sustainable futures on the land.

The days of people coming from Europe to hand out resources must come to an end. The international community has been taking this approach for 60 years and, while well intentioned, the results indicate that we will be doing the same in another 60 unless we change our approach.

The land and the labour exist to build sustainable agricultural enterprises all across Africa

The land and the labour exist to build sustainable agricultural enterprises all across Africa. What is needed is the advice, the support and the market systems to allow such farmers thrive.

Much of this land was not being cultivated for those 20 years of conflict, and many younger people have no practical experience of agriculture.

GOAL provides training and advice to these farmers, encouraging them to grow a wider variety of crops, particularly cash crops, in order to move from subsistence production to commercial farming.

Making a profit allows farmers to hire in the labour and machinery necessary to open up more land to agriculture, thus creating a virtuous circle.

We introduce farmers to buyers, so they can get a better price for their crops due to wider competition for them.

GOAL has just launched a major programme, with the support of the MasterCard Foundation, aimed at creating sustainable agricultural livelihoods for 130,000 young Ugandan farmers through developing markets and expertise.

Market and weather information on mobile phones

As part of this programme, these young farmers, as eager as young farmers anywhere to be at the cutting edge of technology, will get access to market and weather information directly to their mobile phones.

This information, provided by a company called FitUganda, allows them to plant and harvest at the right time while the market information means that no matter how remote their location, they will secure the best price for their produce.

In this programme, like others, the intention is that GOAL will advise, support and encourage but, ultimately, exit.

Farmers in Ireland have access to a lot of advice and support from bodies like Teagasc and Bord Bia, helping them improve quality and increase income. At the end of the day though, they survive and thrive on their own.

That is what farmers in the developing world want to do, no more or no less.

Barry Andrews is CEO of the overseas aid charity GOAL. For more on GOAL’s work, visit