BY SAMUEL NABWIISO
The agriculture sector remains the main thrust of Uganda’s economic growth. This is because the sector contributes about 25% of the National Gross Domestic Product and it employs over 70% of the Uganda’s, population.
This sector also provides great potential and avenues for economic growth and inclusion, particularly for women and the youth. Statistics shows that women make up 55% of the economically active population and they also contribute more than75% of the total farm labor and over 90% of the farm-level primary processing operations. The sector is also characterized by 45% of the farmers being small holder farmers who are under the age of 40 years.
According to experts in the sector Uganda’s agricultural sector has the capacity to operate above the mentioned statistics provided the key challenges the sector is facing are addressed by the relevant agencies including government, development partners and non-state actors.
One of the key obstacle to the sector is the challenges associated with farmer’s access to agricultural extension services. In Uganda access to services of extension workers in the agriculture sector is still limited due to the limited numbers of extension workers.
Agriculture extension services is the assistance given to farmers to help them identify and analyze their production problems and become aware of the opportunities for improvement. Extension provides agricultural and vocational training on the use of fertilizers, insecticides, Improved seeds, Veterinary drugs, land use practices among others and it’s provided by professionals.
Information available at the ministry of agriculture indicates that the ratio of access to agricultural extension services by farmers stand at a ratio of 1:800 yet the recommended ratio is 1:500. This undermines the role of extension services in agriculture leading to poor, low yields and hence making agriculture less productive.
Currently the government of Uganda has recruited less than 3,550 extensions workers out of the recommended 5,000 workers and worse still, the few recruited’s labor productivity is not maximized because of poor working environment.
It’s on this background that non state actors and development partners operating in the agriculture sector are partnering with information and technology companies that have developed innovations that can support farmers to access agricultural extension services using technology which is very cheap compared to the traditional extension service, which involves a lot of movements and face to face contact between the farmers and the agriculture extension services providers.
The latest non states actor to embrace the innovation is the Sasakawa Africa Association that has partnered with two IT companies namely M-Omulimisa and Akorion both, IT innovation firms and provide innovative mobile based extension services to farmers.
“As Sasakawa we have partnered with these two IT firms to provide an e-based agricultural extension services to a cross section of farmers especially to the smaller holder ones across the country where our organisation operates. The IT firms have trained Extension Agents (EA) who are able to share knowledge through questions and answers interactions with farmers and facilitates linkages of farmers to value chain support services such as credit access, access to agricultural inputs, agricultural insurance alongside access to produce markets both locally and regionally in the East African Community markets” explained Dr. Roselline Nyamutale, the Sasakawa Association Africa Uganda’s Country Director.
Note like other IT related solution, this innovation which is under the emergency project to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, on food system to support smallholder farmers cope-up with the impact of the pandemic. Enables the Extension Agents interactions with farmers and can be done in local languages for easier and quicker understanding of the information being passed to farmers by the Extension Agents.
She added by explaining that her organisation has built the capacity of the Commodity Association Traders, Village Agent’s Community based facilitators (CBF)and agro inputs on using the e-extension platforms which is more convenient especially during this period when the country is being challenged with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“To ensure that the IT solution benefits the farmers, a total of about 91 CBF have been availed with smart phones to enable them upload and use the e-extension platforms to provide services to farmers. Through this approach Extension Agents can reach many farmers without face to face meetings which is also a strategy to prevent transmission of Covid-19” She added.
The IT solution is part of several strategies that Sasakawa is using to support smaller holder farmers to cope-up with the impact of Covid-19 pandemic. According to information available at the organization, a total of 800 farmer groups with 1,563 farmers have been supported to cope-up with the effects of the pandemic.
When asked If the project is registering positive impact to the end beneficiaries, Nyamutale said over 200 farmers have been registered and their gardens mapped using the Ezy Agric Application which was developed by Akorion.
Sasakawa is a Non-Government Organisation working with Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries to support Smaller holder farmers with major goal of improving food security, nutrition, and household incomes, the organization operates in over 50 districts across the country.
Managers of the IT companies speaks out about their solution. Daniel Ninsima, the managing Director of M-Omulimisa told the East African Business Week (EABW NEWS) that the IT application, if well utilized can help farmers increase productivity and also enhance their earnings, since it connects farmers to markets directly without involving middle men who usually cheats farmers.
“With the M-Omulimisa IT application, farmers can do market surveys for their produce country wide. This helps them make decision where and whom to sale their produces, reducing incidences of being cheated by agro dealers in the market “He said.
Richard Nuwenyesiga, the Business Development Manager at Akorion said, the Ezy Agric. Application was developed to support farmers in the development of agricultural enterprises, he said, through the application farmers can order for agriculture inputs and the IT company delivers to the farmers at affordable rate. This reduces the incidences of farmers procuring counterfeit agro inputs.
“As Akorion, we have partnered with agro inputs dealers. Companies that supply to farmer’s quality inputs. What farmers need to do is register on our platforms so as to benefit from the IT platform’ He told this Website.
Apart from supporting farmers to access quality agro-inputs, the platforms can also help the smaller holder farmers to access agricultural credit facilitates from financial institutions such as micro-financial institutions, he noted that they have partnered with the Micro Finance Supporting Centers (MFSC) where the company can facilitate the farmers to access credit at affordable interest rates.
Government speaks out on agricultural extension services in the Country.
According to the Assistant Commissioner Information and Communication at the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries Connie Acayo, she attributed the problem of limited agricultural extension services providers to the limited resources that the Central Government remit to the ministry, which cannot support them to recruit the entire number of the officials needed in the entire country.
She added that, Governments’ decision to create more administrative units such as new districts also exerts pressure on the ministry, but she said that, once the ministry gets resources, it will embark on recruiting more extension officers for the good of the agricultural sector.