Smallholder farmers in Kiryandongo district have made a plea to the government to think of implementing agricultural hands-on studies in schools to facilitate a skilled and knowledgeable generation able to uplift the backbone of Uganda’s economy.
Farming as a backbone of the country’s economy has faced a decline in the past years registering a revenue decline of over US$ 299.6 million.
The Smallholder farmers in the Central Uganda district believe the sector can be revamped by taking a skilling approach to the grassroots level. They think this will help students acquire hands-on skills so as to explore opportunities in agriculture.
John Inyani Kasimiro a Farmer from Apac district says experiential learning is so helpful that it can support the revival of Uganda’s agriculture sector by firming the foundation that should start in schools.
“Agriculture as a backbone has become a theology, it must not be preached but rather practically done.
“In past Uganda had young farmers’ associations. We need to go back to those. The government should ensure that every primary school has a garden where children can learn to do practical agriculture under young farmers’ associations,” said Kasimiro during a tour of Agilis Partners Commercial Farm in Kiryandongo District.
Agriculture is one of the most vital sectors of the Ugandan economy contributing about 20% of its GDP which accounts to 48% of exports and providing a large proportion of the raw materials for the industry.
The sector employs 73% of the population aged above 10 years. About 4 million households in Uganda survive on small-holder farming and a significant proportion, (about 30%), of the population live below the poverty line and continue to suffer food insecurity.
Kasimiro said the government must implement the agriculture policies which is the backbone of its economy and should not leave it to rural farmers where 85% of agriculture work is done by women.
“To make farming attractive, the government must encourage everyone. Young, old, man or woman to own a garden which is farmed in an agrarian reformed way,” stressed Kasimiro.
A month before the harvest period, approximately every six months, Agilis Partners Commercial Farm hosts a Farmers’ Day.
This is an event at which Agilis hosts smallholder community members at their farms for technical training and development. Concentration this time was geared mainly at maximizing yields in maize production.
Agilis Partners Commercial Farm is an agricultural company founded in 2012, operating two different companies, Asili Farms which is one of the largest farming companies in Uganda growing maize, soya beans, sunflower and the Joseph Initiative (JI), which is the leading exporter of grain to the East African Community region.
The farms sit on over 15,000 hectares of land which is structured in four different units with majority land under maize and oilseeds. They pride in using the latest high modern technology for land clearing, sowing, weeding, spraying and harvesting.
During the tour, smallholder farmers got training in aspects of farming that included proper land preparation, planting mainly using high quality seeds (Pana seeds), maintaining spacing between seeds as well as controlling plant population (one seed per hole), fertilization, pest and weed control methods, top crop dressing techniques and monitoring of crops.
Kasimiro says that the other challenge they have is the deep-rooted misconception that their products are inferior to those done in foreign countries like the United States.
“What we have is in equal footing as those done in the so-called developed countries, the difference is that they do it as full-fledged businesses but once we get to that, life will be transformed,” notes Kasimiro.
Over 90% of Uganda’s maize is produced by smallholder farmers, of which about 60% of the annual maize output is consumed on the farm.
The intensity of production appears to be a function of the position of the crop in the food system and the marketability of the crop.
Benjamin Prinz the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Agilis Partners Commercial Farm says that their farm is working closely with farmers across Uganda to support them in producing high-quality grains and oilseeds. It is also providing access to the market for their products and urges farmers to form groupings.
“We have knowledge, markets and people and it’s our responsibility to share those three resources with people in our communities as we transfer the technical know-how as witnessed today at the farmers’ day. We’ve given out knowledge on how to farm and maximize yields,” Prinz said.
” I wish to see farmers uniting into bigger groups, exploring high technology on their farms, producing high-quality grains and we will come in to feel the market gap,” Prinz added.
One of the key safeguards for the smallholder farmers in Uganda was the Cooperative Unions but they lost track henceforth.
Nelson Opio Miles an agrarian farmer in Masindi says the government should re-embrace cooperative movements to help farmers and aspiring farmers mostly youths to join agriculture.
“We have a 30-acre land, we divided it into plots so we are able to practice crop rotation.
“When you come together as a family unit without sub-dividing land, employ high technology, farming will be meaningful.
“Uganda has everything, the climate is good and the people are hard-working except that they are not organized into groups,” reasoned Opio.
“In the past, we used to have societies but nowadays people prefer individual farming. If the co-operative movement is revived, further organized, consorted, well planned, information sharing and experiential learning and goes down to the villages, I believe Uganda’s agriculture will pick up much faster and blossom than it is right now,” concluded Opio.
Martin Jadribo an Agronomist in charge of Smallholder farmers at Agilis notes that the number of farmers who come for the training has gradually increased.
“Last year, 3,400 farmers were trained on sustainable and climate-smart cropping techniques. These farmers were subsequently integrated into the 15,000 farmers’ supply network, We hope the number will rise to over 4,500 this year,” said Jadribo.
He added that they have been able to replicate the protocol used on their farm, a re-packaged document with clear operations has been shared smallholder farmers.
BY FRANK SEMATA