Wednesday May 8 2013

Empower farmers instead of giving handouts

Farmers should see extension as a support not a source of handouts.

Farmers should see extension as a support not a source of handouts. File photo 

By Nassib Mugwanya

Agricultural production in Uganda is mainly dominated by smallholder farmers engaged in food and industrial crops, forestry, horticulture, fishing and livestock farming.” This was the introductory line on agriculture used by the deputy chairperson, National Planning Authority, while giving a key note address on Uganda’s Vision 2040 in Vienna, Austria, in October last year.

Such quotes are commonplace in most of the literature on Uganda’s agriculture, and are mostly used as a punch line to the story.

What remains scarcely quoted about Uganda’s agriculture are the sustainable extension systems to facilitate smallholder-based agricultural growth. I use “sustainable” here to mean systems that can live beyond a project or programme interventions.

For many decades, research and development institutions have developed technologies all aimed at improving the status of smallholder farmers to move from peasantry to commercial-based status.

Some of these researches have been able to uplift the farmers’ status while others have flatly failed. Many factors have been pointed out to explain why in numerous research papers, conferences, seminars and workshops but the status has remained the same.

The National Development Plan of 2010/2011-2014/2015 identified limited extension support as one of the key constraints to the performance of the agricultural sector.
Areas in which extension support was found to be inadequate include soil fertility, choice and application of technology, disease control, farm management, harvesting, value addition, and storage.

Although the fingers have been pointed to limited extension support, I wish to focus my attention on how relevant and empowering the available support in extension has been. The extension services in Uganda have been largely provided by Naads, and private NGOs involved in agriculture and rural development.

This provision of extension by both public and non-public institutions is known as the pluralistic system of extension. This is now a widely trending system worldwide, and Uganda has adopted it too.

With this current global trend in extension, most NGOs have been successful at attracting donor funding to provide advisory services. However, the biggest challenge with this has been how extension packages have been designed. In most cases, free hand-outs in form of inputs such as improved seeds, fertilisers, and transport allowances after trainings have been given to farmers.

Such advisory or extension packages brainwash farmers to always look at extension as a conduit of hand-outs. You may bet on this, but nowhere in the world has this ‘hand-out’ system proven to be sustainable, as it always breathes its last as soon as donor funding stops.

Extension systems that empower smallholder farmers to find solutions to their problems are now more desired than ever before.

Both public and non-public extension service providers should strive to broker knowledge in a way that empowers farmers to tackle emerging problems on their own.

The writer is a Graduate Research Assistant,
College of Agriculture & Environment
Sciences, Makerere University.