The belief that students undergoing studies in agriculture at universities or agricultural colleges wait to get employed by organisations involved in this sector is outdated.
Much as students pursuing this course are encouraged to engage in various entrepreneurial agricultural activities once they finish studies, more is being done.
Hard working students are being selected to participate in an exchange internship programme to Israel where they are expected to learn advanced skills in agriculture.
This is an initiative of the government of Israel who started this programme in 2005 with students from universities in East Asia in the countries of Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
But in 2012, doors were opened to African countries mainly in West and Central Africa where countries such as Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Togo, Rwanda, Burkina Faso and Senegal were considered.
In 2013, English-speaking countries in East and Southern Africa, namely Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia were brought on board.
Mr Issa Agaba Mugabo, the East and Central Africa regional coordinator of the programme, explains that the first Ugandan students to benefit from this initiative were from Makerere and Kyambogo universities, totaling 41 Students. The Agro Studies Israel Internship Programme coordinator says this year 216 have been selected from Makerere, Kyambogo, Bishop Mary Stewart, Bukalasa Agricultural College, Busitema and Busoga universities.
“The idea of this initiative is purely from the ambassadors of Israel in various countries who thought about the level of hunger the people of Africa and other developing countries are faced with, yet these countries are endowed with natural resources.
“To them since Israel which is located in a desert land has advanced in agricultural technology by employing methods such as irrigation and good agronomy practices including advanced agricultural research, it would be wise to share this knowledge with agricultural students in African countries in order to improve ways of carrying out agriculture in a bid to reduce hunger,” he explained.
This year’s students, who will be traveling in shifts beginning September 16 to October 1, were flagged off by the Vice President Edward Ssekandi. The VP urged the students to concentrate on improving their skills in good agriculture practices which they will disseminate to the farming communities in Uganda upon their return.
According to Mr Agaba, once the students arrive in Israel, they are allocated to farms of their interest to work on the farm.
The farms could be dealing in citrus, dairy, fish, poultry, vegetable or mushroom depending on their interest.
The gist is in learning ways of practicing advanced farming using advanced techniques which can be implemented by tending to agricultural products we have in Uganda.
Paid to learn
While carrying out their nine-month internship, the students are paid between 60$ to 120$ per day depending on which farm they are attached to.
Mr Agaba said during previous internships each student was able to save between $7,500 to $10,000 which means when they return to Uganda, they can carry out projects which may enable them earn income as they complete their studies. Students are taught to keep in mind three things; speed while carrying out activities on farms, accuracy which means if the cow is giving 40 litres per day it must be recorded as so and quality of work done.
For instance, if a student is packaging vegetables for sale, the quantity and quality must be the same in every package with no mixtures of vegetable residues.
Mr Hussein Asega, now a fourth year finalist pursuing bachelors of Science in Agriculture at Makerere University was one the pioneer students who was part of the first group. He says he got this opportunity while in Year Two.
He was attached to a citrus farm in southern part of Israel called Mehadrin and this was during harvesting time.
He learned how to harvest and sort the best fruit ready for packaging for sale.
Later during the planting season, he learnt how to tend the citrus seedling, planting and pruning while the trees were grown up.
“Cleanliness of the trees and its flowers as well as irrigation of the plantation using drip irrigation method is important,” he says.
According to Asega, the farm had both sandy soil and clay soil where the clay soil is used for nursery beds because it absorbs water and the seedlings are planted in the sandy soil.
As some of plants fail to survive the heat, it is the responsibility of the farmer to keep replanting in order to maintain the orchard.
Most of the varieties grown there are none seeded type like Nova, Navel and Or varieties.
When Asega returned, he went back to West Nile to team up with Mr Emmanuel Ajedra, a renowned fruit farmer based in Dadamu Sub-county in Arua District.
“I did my farm case study on his farm working in nursery operation mainly grafting mango species, ensuring the seedlings are clean and free from pests in order to attract customers to come and purchase them. I have also been able to partner with a farm in Arua called Green Life International owned by Mr Philemon Aceku who deals in commercialising grafted fruit seedlings including different tree species. With my advice, we managed to erect a tank to boost the irrigation system because previously water was being drawn from Enyau river which is a distance away,” he explained.
According to Asega, the pioneer group managed to establish an entrepreneur group called Agri Investment Kibutz where they are partnering with an Israel farm based in Kampala called Agro Max. They were given some plot of land for multiplying coffee seedlings and as of now they have about 500,000 coffee seedlings which are ready for sell.
Other members of the group are involved in personal farm enterprises, one is keeping goats in Nakaseke and another is adding value in cashew nut as well as propagating its seedlings with products sold on Ben Kiwanuka Street in Kampala.
The chancellor Makerere University, Prof Mondo Kagonyera, applauded the intervention of the universities in helping young agriculture students acquire better farming skills in such exchange programmes.
To him it is important for farmers in Uganda to utilise the necessary land for agriculture and live the rest green instead of conducting activities which will deplete the soil, causing infertility.
He urged the students to be useful to the farming community upon their return by disseminating the knowledge acquired to Ugandan farmers through different avenues.