Tuesday June 10 2014

Naads closure is a relief to rural Ugandans

By Pascal Odoch

To resource-poor farmers, President Museveni’s directive to Cabinet to dissolve National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) mirrors what is called “Christmas in July”. Dubbed Pearl of Africa, Uganda is a country where virtually any seed dropped even accidentally on the ground, germinates!

Uganda’s agricultural sector is composed of three types of farmers: Subsistence farmers who constitute 70 per cent and are engaged in “match-box” type gardens in growing their crops; semi-commercial farmers who are predominantly the elite we see driving to their farms on weekends representing 25 per cent of farmers; and the commercial farmers like Mulwana’s Jesa Milk and Mukwano Group’s sun-flower industries who make only 5 per cent of all farmers.

Uganda’s increasing population pressure and resulting sub-division of farms requires a substantial increase in productivity per land unit. Yet, prevailing peasant agriculture is marked by a diversity of crops to address farmers’ risk management strategies and dietary needs. Yields per land unit are low, costs per unit product are high, farmer revenues are low, nutrient inputs are low, resulting in soil degradation.

Most rural households require means and capacities to invest in their farms since they lack skills in production technologies, access to credible inputs and viable markets. As a result, farmers find themselves in a “poverty trap” and this is where Naads comes in.

Despite more than a decade of fundamental political, economic and social reforms, Naads has failed to pay more attention to staple food crops that poorer farmers are used to growing and should have simply scaled-up such! Naads was so over-rated, over-stretched, and over-resourced to the extent that it overshadowed PMA Secretariat that was meant to coordinate it!

President Museveni’s recent directive to close Naads opens debate on the contribution of agriculture strategies in facilitating pro-poor growth in Uganda. International experiences in India, Vietnam and recently, even Zambia, where agriculture has transformed rural households through increased yield per acre and resultant higher earnings, point to the sector’s pivotal role in addressing poverty in similar contexts like Uganda.

The writer is a visiting Professor, University of Lusaka. Email: podoch@parliament.go.ug