I write to respond to the article titled " Elections require a lot of funding, says Museveni" which appeared in the Daily Monitor of Tuesday, April 7, 2015. According to this article, Government has decided to dedicate much of the resources under the NAADS programme to procure and distribute to farmers’ seedlings of some priority cash crops, namely coffee, tea, oranges and mangoes.

While I commend Government for the move to increase availability of planting materials of strategic commodities, we should note that seedlings alone cannot sufficiently enhance agricultural productivity. If for example, good seedlings are planted in poor (infertile) soils, it will be a waste of resources (seedlings, land and labour) because the harvest is expected to be remarkably low and so will be the incomes realised.

Soils in Uganda are highly degraded (depleted of nutrients that plants require to grow well) and yet very few farmers can afford to buy and use fertilisers. Therefore, Government should also think of improving the availability and use of fertilisers. As the first step towards improving the fertiliser industry, Government should prioritise implementing some of the specific interventions spelt out in the strategy for operationalising the National Fertiliser policy.

Also, in order to reap maximum benefits from the seedlings that will be given to farmers, Government should provide farmers with timely and relevant extension services. Farmers need to be advised on for example, when to plant the seedlings, how to plant, what field operations to undertake and how, etc. Provision of agricultural extension often results into more efficient use of agricultural inputs and promotes adoption of new and improved practices. Stimulating adoption of improved planting materials is critical because in the long run, it is not sustainable for Government to continue giving out free inputs.

 However, following the restructuring of NAADS and the entire extension system in Uganda, input distribution is no longer accompanied by advisory services. The UPDF Officers, who have been deployed to supervise input distribution are not technically competent to offer advisory services. It is of great concern that the two weeks training received by the soldiers at Makerere University was inadequate to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to engage in extension service provision. It has been reported that in some case the deployed UPDF soldiers are not only supervising input distribution but they are also engage in procuring the inputs – surely with the short training course in agriculture attended, it is likely that some of them may not even be in position tell the difference between a grafted and undrafted seedlings. So, there is a potential risk of procuring and distribute to farmers low quality planting materials.

Still on agricultural extension service provision, currently, extension staff in contact with farmers are very few and yet recruitment of new staff (after NAADS was disbanded at District local government level) is apparently slow. Thus, as Government moves to invest heavily in procurement and distribution of seedlings, it should equally move fast to improve the agricultural extension service delivery system. 

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