Sasakawa Africa Association country director David Wozemba Wetaka. When smallholder farmers band together to form cooperatives, they have more access to markets. PHOTO/ISMAIL MUSA LADU


Agricultural extension must evolve 

What you need to know:

Despite a staggering gap of 4,910 extension workers with a low ratio of agricultural extension workers to farmers standing at 1:1,800 against the recommended 1:500, the Shs52.7 trillion budget delivered last week attempts to promote the transition from subsistence to commercial farming. Sasakawa Africa Association country director, Mr David Wozemba Wetaka, in an interview explains to Prosper Magazine’s Ismail Musa Ladu how smallholder farmers can turn the fortune of the economy. Excerpts ….

What are the challenges of farming in Uganda?
Farming in Uganda is failing due to the myriad challenges it presently faces. Some include; poor agricultural practices, climate change, poor access to extension services, low-quality inputs and fertilisers, reliance on rain-fed agriculture, low technology adoption, incurable crop diseases, and lack of credit. There is also a progressive decline in soil fertility and crop yields, new forest land is converted at an alarming rate to agriculture to maintain production. Costly and unaffordable healthy diets are associated with increased food insecurity (approximately 11 per cent of Ugandans are food insecure.

How do you deal with these challenges?
I think farming in Uganda can overcome its challenges by strengthening the institutional foundation of agriculture, enabling trade, and enhancing resilience through climate-smart agriculture and inexpensive irrigation systems. Boosting smallholder farmers’ incomes and supporting the growth of food security crops such as cassava, high-value, fast-growing crops like vegetables, and nutrient-dense crops like orange sweet potatoes, iron-rich beans, and vitamin A maize, as well as local indigenous nutrition-dense crops.

As a country, we must be committed to implementing all these. This is in addition to improving the delivery of agricultural support services, facilitating farmers’ access to price and weather information, and promoting market-oriented production, by improving agricultural markets.

What is the future of small-holder farmers in Uganda? 
The country’s population is expanding quickly, making it imperative to create sustainable food systems. Smallholder farmers are crucial in alleviating poverty and malnutrition while safeguarding the environment. The largest 1 per cent of farms worldwide those larger than 120 acres operate more than 70 per cent  of the world’s farmland, and large-scale farming produces a lot of greenhouse emissions, consumes a lot of energy, large quantities of pesticides chemicals, and significant volumes of freshwater resources.

Experience has also shown that small-scale farmers act quickly to invest and expand their operations when given the opportunity. Numerous examples in Uganda today demonstrate that smallholder farmers can successfully compete with large-scale farmers when given support from public or private providers of support services (accessible input supply, seasonal financing, technical advice, etc.). 

Large-scale farmers, however, have one key advantage: they have direct access to support services such as commercial banking, whereas smallholders rely primarily on services being transported to their farm gate. 

Therefore, the argument for large-scale farmers seems stronger in cases where the country may completely fail to provide or encourage support services to smallholder farmers. Without such service provision, smallholders are indeed more likely to be trapped in chronic poverty than to be drivers of agricultural growth.

Smallholder farmers are also in an ideal position to be agents of community transformation, and they are working to create a future where there will be enough food, a reliable source of income, and the possibility of living without poverty. Their ability to increase production and get access to markets is constrained since they need to be with the knowledge and skills to add value, as well as the funds to make acquisitions and use the right inputs. When smallholder farmers produce a higher quality and quantity of food, they can earn more income, better feed their families, and provide more food for the local marketplace - reducing prices and improving diets. When smallholder farmers band together to form cooperatives, organisations, self-help, and women’s groups, they have more access to markets, can participate more fairly in local value chains, and can increase their bargaining power to get paid more for their produce.

What is good about Uganda’s agriculture?
Uganda has some of the best agricultural potentials in Africa because of its low-temperature variability, relatively fertile soils, and two rainy seasons covering a wide area of the country, allowing multiple crop harvests each year. Uganda produces a variety of agricultural goods, such as coffee, tea, sugar, edible oils, livestock, fish, plantains, corn, beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum, and groundnuts. Even though 80 per cent of Uganda’s land is arable, only 35 per cent of it is cultivated. 

In the fiscal year (FY) 2021-2022, agriculture generated around 24.1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 33 per cent of export income. The agriculture sector in Uganda offers major investment prospects in production, input supply, processing for added value, standards compliance and export, as well as post-harvest management. 

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), agriculture employs over 70 per cent of Uganda’s working population. As a result, the industry plays a crucial part in food security and nutrition as well as being a major engine of economic growth and the alleviation of poverty especially for rural households.

Can you assess the role of extension services in agriculture?
Agricultural extension services are crucial for supporting small-scale agriculture and achieving both family and national food security. The improvement of a country’s human resource capacity for productivity is a prerequisite for social and economic development and agricultural extension services improve farmers’ agricultural knowledge and skills, disseminate new technology, and alter farmers’ attitudes. 

Through this, they support community development by fostering the growth of human and social capital, facilitating market access, and collaborating with farmers to manage natural resources sustainably. This results in a decrease in poverty, especially rural poor. In order to continue playing such a significant role in the agricultural and rural development of Uganda, the agricultural extension needs to be reinvigorated because Uganda has a staggering gap of 4,908 extension workers with a low ratio of agricultural extension workers to farmers standing at 1:1,800 against the recommended 1:500.

What kind of extension services is required for the case of Uganda?
Agricultural extension must evolve to meet both the needs of the present and those of the future. Uganda now has a different group of farmers who are more knowledgeable and connected to networks. 

Extension services should focus on innovation that is market-driven instead of just production. There is a need for inclusiveness of all gender groups especially the youth, women, and people with disabilities who run the risk of being shut out of emerging markets that have high standards.

We also know Uganda needs a big dose of the digital revolution. Farmers are shifting to the use of ICT to access advisory services such as mobile phones, radio, video, and the Internet. Majority of young people in Uganda have social media platforms. This is a big opportunity, let us employ youth to work alongside other youth in the agriculture extension field because they might have cutting-edge ideas. Let us promote youth participation by utilising the social media sites they are most likely to use, such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. We must acknowledge that for extension service delivery, public and private must deploy both boots on the ground and other alternative methods to reach the beneficiaries.

What is your relevance in this sector – agriculture?
We work with national agricultural extension services in Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, and Uganda to support smallholder farmers throughout the agricultural value chain. SAA has an extension model in which farmers are trained as Community Based Facilitators (CBFs). These CBFs have been the focal point in each parish and help improve agricultural productivity through the dissemination of technology in demonstration plots.