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ACDP propels agricultural revolution

What you need to know:

Interview. The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries through the Agriculture Cluster Development Project (ACDP) in a partnership with the World Bank, financed by the International Development Association. Daily Monitor’s Joan Salmon, spoke to Dr Henry Opolot Nakelet, the Project Coordinator.

What is the Agriculture Cluster Development Project (ACDP) all about?

The ACDP is a government initiative implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, and Fisheries. Approved in 2016, following the acquisition of a $150 million World Bank loan, the project became effective in 2017. Originally set to conclude in 2022, the ACDP faced challenges that necessitated an extension until May 31, 2024.

The primary goal of the ACDP is to enhance on-farm production and productivity and increase the marketable volumes of key commodities such as maize, beans, rice, coffee, and cassava.

This project spans 57 districts, which are organized into 12 clusters.

To achieve increased productivity, the ACDP focuses on ensuring farmers have access to improved productivity-enhancing inputs and supports them in adopting better post-harvest handling technologies. This approach aims to improve the quantity and quality of produce. Higher-quality produce leads to increased household income for farmers, thereby improving their livelihoods.

What are the ACDP components and what does each entail?

The ACDP consists of four main components, each aimed at improving various aspects of agricultural production, productivity, and market access.

Support for intensification of on-farm production

Subsidized inputs were provided to participating farmers through an e-voucher system. Over three seasons, farmers received quality inputs at subsidized rates, starting with a 67 percent government contribution and 33 percent farmer contribution, then moving to a 50-50 percent split, and finally a 33-67 percent split.

By the fourth season, it was expected that farmers would have experienced the benefits of quality inputs and could continue without subsidies. Accredited agro-dealers were involved to ensure the quality of farm inputs.

Value addition and market access

Farmer groups received matching grants to establish bulking (storage) and value addition (machinery) facilities. Farmers were required to match the government’s financial input of 67 percent.

Rehabilitation of chokes on farm access roads was undertaken to improve connectivity between high productivity areas and markets, thus removing constraints to farming activities.

Policy and regulation support

The Ministry’s capacity to support policy formulation and regulatory functions was enhanced, particularly in seed certification and agrochemical analysis. The national Seed Analytical Laboratory in Kawanda was renovated to meet the certification and standards of the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA).

Additionally, agro-chemical testing equipment was procured for the analytical laboratory in Namalere to improve input quality assurance.

The Project strengthened the Ministry’s agricultural statistical capacity by developing the National Food and Agricultural Statistical System (NFASS) to address the gap in agricultural data collection, analysis, and reporting.

The project also provided support for managing the fall armyworm outbreak through demonstration materials, training, and capacity building. Regulatory frameworks, and enhance coordination and monitoring within the agricultural sector.

Who were the target farmers on this project?

The project targeted to support smallholder farmers who were capable of commercializing their operations, to reach approximately 450,000 farmers across 57 districts nationwide. These farmers were organized into 30,000 groups, which were in turn under 3,000 rural producer organizations and 300 Area Commodity Cooperative Enterprises.

Additionally, the project targeted agro-input dealers for capacity building, strengthening, and support to help them expand their size and reach.

What were the criteria for participation?

A farmer to benefit from the ACDP, they had to belong to an existing farmers’ group. The project worked with established groups to avoid forming new ones for each government project. However, in areas with high production potential but lacking groups, support was provided to form farmer groups.

The criteria for individual farmers included;

•             Belonging to a farmer group

•             Owning land and committing at least one acre to the project commodity.

•             Willingness to co-fund for inputs, as these were not provided for free.

•             Actively engaged in cultivating the supported crops. For farm organizations to benefit from matching grants, they had to meet the following criteria:

•             Registered at the district or national level.

•             Ownership of the land where the facility would be established, evidenced by a title or a sales agreement, as the project did not purchase land or provide compensation.

•             Possession of an active bank account.

•             Willingness and ability to contribute 33 percent of the total project cost

What challenges was the project meant to deal with?

At the conception of the project, the glaring challenge was food security in Uganda, as well as in the East African and COMESA regions. While Uganda had the potential to supply produce to these markets, very little of the produce was reaching them. The major reasons included:

Low use of productivity-enhancing inputs: Uganda had very low usage of fertilizers, averaging about two kilograms per hectare, and only about 40 percent of farmers were using improved seeds. This was insufficient to meet demand.

Quality issues: Produce reaching the market was often rejected due to contamination and other quality issues.

Post-harvest handling: Approximately 40 percent of produce was wasted due to poor post-harvest handling practices.

Exporting raw produce: Uganda primarily exported raw produce, resulting in low value and earnings. There was a need for value addition to improve earnings, increase shelf life, facilitate transportation, and access distant markets.

Limited access to credit: Farmers struggled with limited access to affordable credit.

Low mechanization: There was low mechanization in the country, which is why part of the project included tractor-hire services to ease land preparation.

Poor road networks: Poor road infrastructure impeded access to markets, especially for farming communities.

Limited knowledge: There was limited knowledge among farmers about the use of improved inputs and better agricultural practices.

These challenges highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to enhance agricultural productivity, improve quality, and ensure better market access for Ugandan farmers.

What achievements has the project registered?

The project involved enrolment, ordering, and redemption phases. While the target was 450,000 farmers or households, 411,872 benefited, highlighting the challenges and novelty of the approach, especially taking time to appreciate the co-funding approach

A total of Shs148 billion was invested in input acquisition, with farmers contributing Shs43 billion and the government Shs105 billion. This demonstrated that farmers are willing to buy inputs when assured of their quality, timeliness, and the market for their produce.

In some districts, farmers have continued to buy inputs at market cost without subsidies. There was a general increase in yields of all the five commodities supported by the project with coffee and rice exceeding the targets. For example, rice farmers increased their yield from one tonne per hectare to 4.3 tonnes, maize from 1.2 tonnes to

4.0 tonnes per hectare, beans from 0.5 tonnes to 1.2 tonnes per hectare, and coffee from 1.9 tonnes to about 2.8 tonnes per hectare.

This indicates that the project has been effective for the participating farmers. Previously, farmers were discouraged from buying inputs due to high prices and poor harvests. However, with the e-voucher system, agro-dealers have been trained, certified, and increased in number, improving the proximity of inputs to the farmers.

The project exceeded its target of 300 farmer organizations for matching grants, reaching 358 organizations. These organizations built stores, installed machinery and equipment, and connected with input suppliers, increasing storage capacity by about 82,000 metric tonnes. An investment of Shs110 billion was made, with farmers contributing Shs36.5 billion and the ministry Shs74 billion.

When people invest in their development, they see the benefits.

In addressing road chokes, the project rehabilitated broken bridges and installed culverts in swampy areas, working on 1,110 km of road chokes, including about 345 structures (small bridges or culverts) and about 59 swamp crossings. As a result, farmers can now transport produce to markets, and communities have better access to water sources, health facilities, and schools.

This improved access has enabled farmers to receive market prices for their produce, rather than being at the mercy of middlemen.

The project also established seven five-hectare solar-powered irrigation systems in the Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institutes (ZARDIs) under the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), enhancing seed generation and development. Additionally, 49 smallholder coffee irrigation schemes were supported through matching grants.

The battle against the fall armyworm was successfully managed, reducing infestation to less than 2 percent, which is no longer economically destructive. Maize farmers have learned how to control this pest. Studies are being undertaken to support the development of engineering designs for two irrigation schemes in the Busoga and Acholi areas, to be developed through a follow-up project.

Finally, the seed laboratory was rehabilitated, and agrochemical analytical equipment was purchased, further enhancing the Ministry’s regulatory capacity.

What challenges were faced during the start of the project?

The project faced a challenging start, particularly in convincing farmers to contribute inputs, which took considerable time. Initially, getting farmers to embrace a project that required their investment was difficult. However, after 2020, following numerous demonstrations, participation increased significantly.

The introduction of the e-voucher management system also posed challenges. Although similar systems had been implemented in Nigeria and Kenya, it was the first of the like in the country. Designing the system was problematic due to limited examples to learn from, leading to some exploitation of loopholes by unscrupulous agro-dealers. However, continuous refinements were made to better serve the farmers.

Other issues included network connectivity, farmer mobilization and their capacity to contribute financially, as many farmers lacked alternative income sources. This problem was intensified by overlapping seasons, resulting in low prices. To address this, the government introduced the Parish Development Model (PDM), providing farmers with access to cheap credit for procuring inputs.

The capacity of agro-input dealers was another challenge. Many dealers lacked adequate capital, leading to unfulfilled orders and affecting trust between lower-level dealers and national importers or manufacturers.

Implementation of matching grants also faced hurdles as farmers and farm organizations struggled to meet their contribution requirements. This was due to limited access to capital and a lack of understanding of the importance of contributing.

The issue of road chokes, initially given a small budget, became a significant concern. Many community roads had been neglected, making selection difficult. While the project aimed to use local contractors, financial constraints led to slow and sometimes subpar work.

Weather conditions also posed challenges. Droughts and heavy rains affected farmers’ ability to utilize purchased inputs effectively.

Despite these challenges, the project made significant progress in improving agricultural productivity and market access for farmers.

Despite the challenges, what were the learned lessons?

Working with lead farmers: Lead farmers should be treated as key influencers. Their motivation is crucial because if they become demotivated, others will likely follow. For future projects, instead of focusing on inputs for just one acre, we should consider five acres or more to highlight the commercial benefits.

Subsidy strategy: Rather than implementing a declining subsidy, a fixed subsidy should be maintained. Additionally, improving household identifiers to avoid duplicity is essential. Despite having three subsidy tranches, most farmers remained at the 33 percent contribution level (first tranche).

Expanding reach: Future projects need to extend beyond the initial 57 districts to achieve a nationwide impact

Advancing processing levels: Projects should move beyond primary processing to include secondary and tertiary processing. This would allow for the creation of industrial products from agricultural produce, such as cornflakes from maize, high-grade flour for confectionaries and pharmaceuticals, starch, bio-ethanol from cassava, and canned beans from beans.

By incorporating these lessons, future initiatives can be more effective and have a broader impact on the agricultural sector.

As the project coordinator, I would rate this project highly in terms of achieving its set objectives. It was one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever been involved in, but it demonstrated significant success in providing practical approaches to transforming agriculture and positively impacting rural communities.