Thursday January 30 2014

Why Naads can still be rescued

Like many things of grand design introduced during the NRM’s three decades in government, Naads was doomed to stumble partly because it was sold as a gift to party loyalists and soon suffered that disease common to political projects where a dim view is taken of accountability.

Established in 2001, the National Agricultural Advisory Services is in free fall. Party apparatchiks together with willing co-conspirators in the district administrations seem to see it as a trough for corrupt snouts, not the key to modernisation of agriculture promised by President Museveni. The President thinks the solution lies in replacing senior staff with soldiers but they would obviously be out of their depth. His strange prescription to what is basically a problem of technical failure should be discarded.

Naads is supposed to be a repository of knowledge. Its workers are expected to deliver agricultural information and improved technologies to the rural farmer. It was also hoped that farmers would eventually be better set up to achieve the desired objective of producing for the market.

From the President’s recurring lamentations, and the depressing findings in the latest Auditor General’s report, it instead appears that the rural farmer remains largely untouched by a Naads which is today a black hole into which billions of shillings disappear unaccounted for.

A starting point to recovery should be in handing back agricultural extension services to the experts. Keep the money bleeding bureaucracy down to a minimum and humbly look to history for answers.

Good lessons can be learned from the District Farm Institutes (DFIs) used for training and practical purposes in the 1980s. Extension workers operating out of DFIs were a fixture of rural life, riding about on their motorcycles dispensing useful information. Demonstration farms flourished, affordable tractor hire services were available. Then the new government stifled them to death, like it did with the Cooperative movement. The costly mistake in that decision was belatedly realised resulting into this wobbly re-invention of the wheel under a new name: Naads.

Naads was hijacked for political reasons with the people being told that only NRM supporters were intended beneficiaries. And like most populist projects where no authority is accountable, no one has been bothered enough with the technical side of things. We can recover a lot of lost ground by studying the success of the DFI model.