Small Scale farmers plays a big role in the economies of the seven member states of the East African Community ( EAC), peasants are the major source of food consumed in the region.
In countries such as Uganda, small scale farmers make up to 76% of the players in the agriculture sector.
This has been achieved through working in agricultural groups country wide where farmers have brought together and share knowledge on how they can effectively participate in the sector despite the challenges face.
In Uganda, farmer’s forums such as the Eastern and Southern Small Scalp farmer’s forum (ESAFF) Uganda Chapter have been on the forefront in bringing small scale famers together across the Country.
Samuel Nabwiiso an agriculture reporter from EABW NEWS caught up with the National Coordinator of the forum Hakim Baliraine for an Interview and here it’s the excerpts.
Tell us about yourself
I am Baliraine Hakim, a small scale farmer growing cereals, legumes, tuber crops and some livestock plus some bananas. I am the regional and national chairperson of the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF) and ESAFF Uganda respectively alongside being the vice chairperson of ESAFF Mayuge District, Eastern Uganda?
Apart from the above mentioned responsibilities, am as well the Vice Co-Chair of the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative (EOA-I) of eastern Africa and also a representative of People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) Africa to the Global Executive Committee.
What is your role in ESAFF and ESAFF Uganda?
As the Chairperson of the regional forum and the executive committee, I enforce the implementation of policies and programs which are passed by the regional Board.
I represent the organization in various forums and engagements such as fundraising for financial resources to fund our activities and speak for the organization and make sure that I give guidance to the secretariats.
A part from activities am also responsible to monitor projects and programs implementation along sise giving oversight interventions.
Share with us the genesis of ESAFF and that of ESAFF Uganda.
In 2002 during the convergence of the World summit on sustainable development, is when a call for the formation of ESAFF was born, this was so because small scale farmers were not actively engaged and didn’t always participate in the policy processes, and they didn’t have any voice.
So, this formation aimed at creating a platform where small scale farmers voices, concern and issues could be articulated and addressed.
This would as well enable (SSF) to participate and contribute meaningfully to the policy processes. As a result, this Forum was established and named ESAFF, of which each country had to align itself to the regional setting.
This is how ESAFF Uganda, started by mobilizing 7 districts, and later by 2010 the number increased to 12, and currently we are in 54 districts.
To-date what are those key achievements that you’re very proud of?
ESAFF had 10 countries as its members but it has now grown to 16 member countries, we have a functional and fully fledged regional secretariat, with operational policies, and as a farmers forum we have been able to create linkages at the EAC and SADC regional blocks, whereby we serve on some of the (TWG) groups.
We have influenced the increasing of financing of the agriculture sector by holding regional agriculture budget summits in the two regional blocks, we have also influenced the regional agriculture investment programs to include issues which affect SSF and more so seed, and inclusion of SSF in the document so that it is specific.
In Uganda we have achieved a lot in that we have expanded the geographic coverage from seven districts to fifty-four having operational structures, legal policy frame work like the strategy which is reviewed regularly. Apart from that we also now have a functional board and secretariat.
Establishment of development partners who funds our activities, increased member groups above 40,000.
Having a strong linkage between public institutions like research, academia, and government ministries, the establishment of strong grass roots members who manage our projects, like community seed banks, (FFS,) agro ecology schools and clubs.
Being able to market SSF produce on line, then acquisition of means of transport
What has ESAFF Uganda’s contribution been to achieving the SDGs?
ESAFF Uganda has built a resilient community where small scale farmers are able to propagate and breed their own seed contributes directly to the reduction of hunger and poverty in the community.
It also looks at building a community which is not susceptible to Climate change, and all practices like planting of trees.
This has helped in sequencing carbon in the soil, improving on the nutrition security, so you find that all ESAFF Uganda is addressing almost the seventeen SDGS.
What have been those key contributors to the achievements that you have talked about?
These achievements are not cast on stones; basically it has been the collaboration between our development partners, the farmers, policy maker and implementers, the media, and a very strong and committed staff who are our foot soldiers. Also the enabling policy environment and the strategies we have developed have played a very important role.
What are those challenges that you have experienced overtime?
One of the challenges has been that our approach was different and creating impact on the work we are doing took time as grass root communities have been used to the hand out method, and yet at ESAFF we were looking at empowering them to have sustainable access, control and use of existing and coming initiatives.
We are in only 54 districts and this district erupted from 30. Uganda has over 140 districts, this leaves a gap.
We want to speak as one voice but we get resistance from some farming communities because they’re not aware of our presence and our activities.
Apart from those challenges, ESAFF Uganda is also faced with the challenges of government policies, many of the existing policies favor conventional way of farming while our approach is looking at an Agro ecological way, it becomes difficult to work within the community where information from the extension is opposite.
The cost of reaching the districts where activities are, has been so high as most cases hiring of vehicles and the road network has been another bottle neck in some districts especially during rainy season yet the organization has little resources
Not having enough funds or resource envelope to have activities in all the membership districts has hampered our mission to be achieved quickly.
Where do you see ESAFF Uganda in the next 20 years?
All indicators prove that we are growing and nothing shall stop us, in the coming twenty years we hope that we shall be a very strong movement of small scale farmers who influences policies in their favor that are respected and adhered to.
I also believe ESAFF Uganda will be one the leading organization which will have its own researched and approved agendas that can be used and referred to by state and none state.
I look at ESAFF Uganda in the next 20 years as a self-reliant institution which can exist with or without donor funds.
What is your key message to donors, partners and small-scale farmers?
To the donor community this is an assurance that you didn’t make a mistake to work with us and the funds shall always be put to use in the right way and at the right time.
My appeal is that, its high time you invest in the small scale farmers, innovations, plans, programs and agendas, as this shall trickle down to rear beneficiary and create long lasting impact.
To our partners we don’t want to say a lot, we can still move together and grow together, my appeal is that let us be more united and focused to achieve the desired change we need.
And for scale farmers we should maintain the momentum and no looking back we are focused and it is that spirit we should carry on because, the task of feeding the growing
Any concluding remarks?
Yes, we are 20 years, but still we have hunger and famine increasing, this gives us a strong stand to make sure that we look for solutions which addresses the root causes of hunger in the world, and not always going for solutions which addresses the effects.
Let us address the issues related to production resources, climate change effects, gender imbalances and inequality, and bad policies which have selfish interests for few individuals or institutions and also ensure that we develop an e-farming society because ICT has big role to play in the agriculture sector.