Farmers engaging in various agricultural activities ranging from crop production, animal husbandry, poultry, fish farming, agro inputs, value addition and marketing have been conducting their work with the hope of expecting an organised system of agricultural extension service delivery for better outputs.
This is mainly because a number of players ranging from civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries, among others, have been providing agricultural extension services to the farmer but not reaching all of them.
But the key extension service provider since 2001 has been the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) whose service has not been appreciated much by the farmers.
Agricultural extension in Uganda therefore has undergone a number of transformations from 2001 with the current reform process, which is supposed to be on contract extension basis.
The government has set up a committee to review agriculture extension services to reach farmers better after identifying various contradictions in the Naads programme.
The ongoing process is at consultation level, where the extension service department will be solely managed by the Ministry of Agriculture although the content of the service is not any different.
Mr Patience Rwamigisha, an official from the ministry, presented the proposed reforms to a consultative stakeholders’ meeting which was held in Kampala, April 3.
He outlines how extension has evolved over time considering aspects such as regulatory, educational, and participatory depending on the demand.
Rwamigisha and his committee are of the view that since extension service has been reaching few farmers under the umbrella of Naads due to lack of financial accountability and service delivery, it is necessary to transfer this service to the management of the ministry.
In the reforms, the ministry intends to implement the service in collaboration with local governments, academic institutions, development partners, Members of Parliament, as well as civil society, farmers’ and and professional organisations.
According to the review team, for the service to be effectively implemented, it will be group based with recommended number of workers who should be well motivated.
Providing the statistics, Rwamigisha said in the previous Naads arrangement, up to 4,200 extension service workers were recruited with many not qualified to carry out the work.
By 2012, out of the agreed 1,456 recommended staff recruitment in the service delivery, 267 posts were filled at local government level. At sub county level, out of the 6,952 posts, only 2,250 posts were filled. Some of these challenges were as result of a ban on recruitment by the donors
In the proposed reforms, a committee will be identified to work with a special agency to carry out interventions in agricultural growth.
They will also focus on promotion of agricultural commercialisation amongst farmers, improved storage facility, value addition and establishment of reliable agricultural markets.
The minister of agriculture, Tress Buchanayandi, while opening the consultative meeting, explained that reforms are part and partial of agriculture.
Previously, there were implemented on cash crops such as coffee, tea and cotton. Later on, they were implemented through district agricultural extension service providers, the Naads.
To him, farmers working on estate crops like sugarcane and tea can provide their own extension service. The target group for these reforms is mainly progressive commercial farmers and the small-scale farmers who constitute 70 per cent.
Those providing these services should concentrate on the priority commodities like bans, maize, banana, cassava, rice, which are food security crops and then dairy and meat production, fish farming, coffee and tea production as well as fruits.
The minister in his considerations thinks in providing reforms, different methods will be used to reach farmers one them use of phones, research institutes for improved agro inputs including seeds and mechanisation of the farming system including irrigation.
However, a number of stakeholders are pessimistic about the reforms saying it is duplication of Naads, which will fail in the end.
Mr Kizito Odong, a 26-year-old farmer, who conducts extension service in Apac District courtsey of VEDCO, explains that already civil society organizations are engaging farmers in extension service.
They use field schools where farmers form associations to manage their agricultural activities, beginning with demonstration gardens to tiling, agronomy practices, harvesting and marketing.
“I see no difference with this reform; it is just a duplication of Naads’ activities, which failed completely. These people are going to engage politicians and those well-to-do farmers but ignore the majority of small scale farmers,” he questioned.
Dr Godbar Tumushabe, who discussed the paper, proposed for the reform committee to be disbanded. He reasoned that the ministry should first work towards attaining 10 per cent of budget funding for agriculture to improve the sector before going on to implement reforms
“If the team is to reform the sector, they should ask questions: Why are we reforming the extension service? What are we responding to? Is it pest and disease burden, marketing the produce or value addition and processing issues?” he questioned.