Economics

What Are The Major Natural Resources Of Uganda?

Uganda has substantial natural resources such as arable land and climate suitable for agriculture.

Uganda is a country in East-Central Africa that is bordered by Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The landlocked country covers an area of approximately 242,034 square kilometers and has a population of about 33.6 million people. Uganda has substantial natural resources, including a favorable climate, arable land, oil reserves, and small deposits of minerals such as copper, cobalt, limestone, and gold. These natural resources are abundant but poorly developed. Given Uganda's large tracks of arable land, agriculture is one of the most important sectors of the economy, accounting for over 70% of employment. However, the mineral sector is not well developed and is not a major contributor to the economy. Some of the major natural resources of Uganda are described below.

Salt

Salt extraction has been a source of prosperity for decades in certain communities in Uganda, especially those near Lake Katwe, which is a crater lake located inside Queen Elizabeth National Park, in the Kasese District. Lake Katwe is about 9 kilometers wide and six feet deep at the deepest point and is the chief producer of salt in Uganda. Several streams drain into the lake, but its does not have an outlet, so intense evaporation leads to the formation of salty water. The lake is partitioned into various plots, known as salt pans, which are demarcated using pieces of wood and earth. The saltpans intensify evaporation and concentrate the salt. Three salt products can be extracted from the lake: rock salt blocks, salt crystals, and salty muds, which are primarily sold to farmers as salt licks. Salt is still traditionally extracted by hand, using tools such as hoes.

Fertile Soil

With an area of 242,034 square kilometers, Uganda is the 9th largest country in East Africa. Uganda’s soils are some of the most fertile in Africa. In fact, the country accounts for almost 50% of East Africa’s arable land. According to a 2014 report by the World Bank, Uganda has 6.9 million hectares of arable land, which represents 34.41% of the country's total land area. Regardless of this estimate, the country considers 71.9% of its total land area to be agricultural land. Additionally, about 11% of the total land area is under permanent crops, while forests cover 14%. Only 35% of Uganda's agricultural land is being utilized and is often characterized by poor farming methods and tools. However, it is estimated that the arable land in Uganda has the potential to produce enough food to feed about 200 million people. The fertile soil is concentrated around the highland areas and the Lake Victoria region, which are used to grow high-value cash crops such as coffee, tea, cocoa, and sugar cane.

Climate

Uganda experiences a warm tropical climate, with temperatures ranging between 25 °C and 29 °C, except for the highlands and mountainous regions, which experience lower temperatures. For example, the top of Mount Elgon is covered with snow for most of the year. The hottest season in Uganda runs from December until February. However, evenings can be cool during the hot months, with temperatures dropping to about 17 °C. Many regions in Uganda receive an annual rainfall of between 1,000 and 1,500 mm, while dry areas receive less than 1,000 mm. Heavy rains are experienced between March and May, and again from September until November, rendering some roads in rural areas unusable. The rainfall is widespread, especially in areas with agricultural potential, and supports farming activities in areas with fertile land.

Oil

While currently small, the oil industry in Uganda has significant potential for growth. Western Uganda is estimated to contain 6.5 billion barrels of oil reserves, about 1.4 billion barrels of which are estimated to be economically recoverable. Additionally, promising oil fields have been discovered near Lake Albert. The Ugandan government has granted production licenses for foreign corporations, such as Tullow Oil from the United Kingdom and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, allowing them to develop oil reserves in the country. Uganda also plans to construct a refinery to produce petroleum products for export and domestic use. The government is hopeful to reach oil by 2020. However, as a landlocked country, Uganda may be forced to construct an export pipeline leading to the coast of the Indian Ocean. Other options are also being explored, including a standard gauge railway line to the ocean’s coast.

Copper

Copper is mined in several locations in Uganda. However, the country's only major copper deposits are located in Kilembe. Other notable areas include Bobong, Kitaka, and Kampono. Located in the town of Kilembe, at the foothill of the Ruwenzori Mountain in Western Uganda, the Kilembe Mines contain both copper and cobalt. It is the largest copper mine in Uganda, containing an estimated 4 million tons of copper and an undetermined amount of cobalt ore. Additionally, approximately 1,100 hectares of the site remain unexplored. Copper was discovered in Kilembe in 1908, but production did not begin until 1956, following the construction of a railway line to the town of Kasese. Copper production at the Kilembe Mines was temporarily stopped in 1982 for maintenance work. At the time of its closure, there were about 420 million tons of proven copper reserves.

Gold

Although gold deposits are distributed across Uganda, only a few regions, such as Kahengyere, Muti, and Mashoga, have been exploited. Gold production primarily occurs through small-scale producers, such as licensed artisans and miners. Production figures are likely inaccurate, as many producers operate illegally and without a license, while licensed producers often under-declare amounts of gold mined. Additionally, many gold transactions occur through dubious means and are traded in the black market.

Iron Ore

Iron ore in Uganda is primarily mined as two types of minerals: hematite and magnetite. Hematite is of higher quality and is found mainly in Butare and Kamena, with deposits exceeding 50 million tons. Magnetite is found in Bukusu, Nangalwe, and Namekhara, which produce a total of 41 million tons. Iron ore production is limited in Uganda and is primarily used in steel scrap smelting.

Non-Metallic Resources

Uganda has a wide variety of non-metallic resources, which include talc, mica, graphite, limestone, clay, feldspar, diatomite, glass, kaolin, phosphate, nickel, and rare earth elements.

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