While there is a lot of potential for countries like Uganda and others in the eastern and southern Africa to increase their agricultural production, this is not the reality. In some cases, the situation seems to get worse not better despite the various efforts to make the agriculture sector more productive.
“Key questions that keep coming up are the yield gap—the difference between the potential shown by research and what is realised in the farmers’ fields,” notes Dr Ambrose Agona, director general, National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro).
“But this can change if farmers can be availed with improved seeds, fertilisers, herbicides. This is together with best practices like water harvesting, soil conservation and intercropping, among others.”
It is against this backdrop that he and other directors of research institutes, representatives of ministries of agriculture, policy makers as well as experts are meeting in Entebbe, this week, on 27-28 October. It is not only a discussion of the major issues affecting agricultural production, but an initiative to get support from decision makers on the areas where action should be taken.
Known as High-Level Policy Conference, the two-day event is organised by Naro, Asareca, an Entebbe-based regional agricultural research organisation, and SIMLESA—Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Eastern and Southern Africa project.
“We don’t want to wait until the project ends to share the results, yet there are emerging challenges and the need for continuous engagement along the way,” remarked Dr Michael Waithaka, theme manager, Asareca, on the significance of the conference.
Five areas have been identified to form the gist of the discussions. These are building farmers’ capacity, market access especially inputs, barriers to cross-border trade, the threat of Maize Lethal Necrosis disease, and post-harvest technologies.
The focus is on maize and legumes, which are major crops in Africa. In many parts of the continent, there are staples as well as sources of food for millions and cash crops that provide livelihoods for millions of households. Sustainable Intensification centres on protecting the resources, especially the soils, while enhancing production. But the project looks to factors beyond the farm that have an impact such as climate change, technologies, markets and trade.
There are 16 farmers’ groups, which are using the SIMLESA approach; eight in Lira and eight in Nakasongola. Uganda, together with Botswana and Rwanda, are known “spill over” countries where the lessons learned from the project’s “core” countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique—are also implemented.