By Mildred Barungi

Mildred Barungi

The role of agricultural extension systems

Agricultural extension service provision is expected to play an intermediary role between technology development by research institutions (NARO in the case of Uganda) and farming communities. An effective agricultural extension systems is expected to address four key issues, namely : (i) technology transfer, especially for staple food crops; (ii) human capital development, especially regarding the technical and management skills and knowledge that poorly educated farm-households need to increase farm income; (iii) building social capital, or getting farmers organised into groups or other types of farm organisations to carry out specific activities; and (iv) educating farmers to manage natural resources sustainably.

Uganda’s agricultural extension systems have not meant the minimum expectations


Available evidence suggests that Uganda’s current and previous extension systems have not satisfactorily addressed the four objectives an effective system. For example, Uganda’s extension systems has not reached most farmers to educate them on how to manage natural resources sustainably. Evidence presented in Figure 1 indicates that at national level, less than thirty percent of cultivated land is under sustainable land management (SLM), yet at least 87 percent of the country’s land is degraded.


On the positive note, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) recognizes land degradation as one of the major constraints to increasing agricultural productivity and production. The National Planning Authority (NPA) too concurs with this state of affairs and indeed has prioritized investment in promoting sustainable land use and soil management (based on the current National Development Plan II). Development partners also are concerned about land degradation and its impacts and they are supporting scaling-up of SLM practices and technologies.

For example, through MAAIF and NARO, the World Bank is supporting implementation of the Agricultural Technology and Agribusiness Advisory Services (ATAAS) project, which has an SLM component. The purpose of promoting use of SLM practices is to enhance environmental resilience and sustainability of agricultural land resources while generating local and global environmental benefits in addition to improved yields.

Figure 1: Proportion (%) of cultivated land under sustainable agricultural practices in 2014

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Source: Agricultural Technology and Agribusiness Advisory Services (ATAAS) survey conducted by UBoS in 2014.

Further, the extension system in Uganda has not yet fully supported farmers to get organised into groups to carry out specific activities. Evidence indicates that nationally, only 9 percent of the agricultural households above 15 years of age belong to a farmer group. The limited membership to groups is undesirable because government of Uganda and its development partners are targeting farmer groups as the vehicle for agricultural development.

The failure of the extension systems to fully address the four expected objectives could in part be attributed to weakly functioning institutions, weak linkages of the extension system with other complementary institutions and failure to apply the value chain approach.
Although the structure of the single spine agricultural extension system shows linkages with other institutions, these linkages are nonetheless weakly utilized. One indicator of weak linkages between institutions is the low survival rate of seedlings distributed by NAADS (National Agricultural Advisory Services) Secretariat under the operation wealth creation (OWC) programme.

The evaluation report by the OWC together with the President’s office showed that the survival rate of the 93 million coffee seedlings planted during the first season of 2016 was only 42 percent (39.06 million seedlings survived) because of drought. If NAADS Secretariat was strongly linked to MAAIF’s Directorate of Agricultural Extensions Services, seedling distribution would have been complemented by extension services about climate smart agriculture. The collaboration between the two institutions with separate mandates would have helped increase the seedling survival rate.

The Role of Strong Institutional Linkages and Partnerships

There are development partners who recognize the importance of strong institutional linkages and are using the value chain approach to build mutually beneficial relationships among farmers, traders, processors, cooperatives and other value chain actors. An example is the USAID supported Feed the Future Uganda commodity production and marketing activity programme that is applying the “Village Agent Model” to selected agricultural commodities (coffee, beans and maize). The Village Agent Model follows a holistic approach because it tackles issues of inputs acquisitions, agricultural finance, production and marketing (see Box 1).

Box 1: The Village Agent Model adopted by Feed the Future Uganda

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Source: Feed the Future Uganda Commodity Production and Marketing Activity Proof of Concept Series No. 1 2016

 

 

The model works through a network of “village agents” whose are trained to: organize farmers in producer groups, provide extension services (e.g. on good agronomic practices, post-harvest practices for quality assurance, and financial literacy), link farmer groups to banks to ease access to loans, promote labour-saving technologies, support farmers (on cost-sharing basis) to buy authentic inputs for production and value addition (e.g. tractors, maize processing machinery), and link farmers to local traders and exporters.

Thus, the village agent model offers incentives to actors in the agriculture sector to remain engaged in the sector. The system works for all actors because: demand is created for the input suppliers; farmers are willing to invest in improved technologies since they are assured of output markets; due to increased production and productivity, the village agents earn more commission as the volumes of output supplies to local traders and exporters increase; and local traders and exporters are assured of stable supply of quality commodities.

 

Call to Action

Both public and non-state actors in the agriculture sector should adapt the village agent model used by Feed the Future because it creates mutually beneficial relationships among actors. The single spine agricultural extension system is linked to other actors as per the organogram—these linkages and collaborations should be fully exploited and strengthened if the agriculture sector is to meet its medium term goals of increasing production and productivity, improving household food security, increasing farmers’ income, and increasing the value of exports.

Adoption of the village agent model would in part help address the challenge of inadequate human resource (very low public extension staff: farmers ratio) because the village agents are usually resident in the communities they serve and they are not paid by Government for the agricultural extension services they offer—rather they earn commissions on commodity supplies to traders. 

 

References 

  1. The National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) is the apex body for guidance and coordination of all agricultural research activities in the national agricultural research system in Uganda. NARO is a Public Institution established by an act of Parliament, which was enacted on 21st November 2005.
  2. Swanson, B. E. (2008). Global review of agricultural extension and advisory service practices. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization.
  3. Since June 2014, MAAIF adopted the “Single Spine Agricultural Extension Service Delivery System”, which aims at harmonizing and coordinating all extension service delivery both in public and private sectors.
  4. Banadda, N. (2010). Gaps, barriers and bottlenecks to sustainable land management (SLM) adoption in Uganda. African Journal of Agricultural Research 5 (25), 3571 - 3580
  5. Adong, A., F. Mwaura and G. Okoboi (2012). What factors determine membership to farmer groups in Uganda? Evidence from the Uganda Census of Agriculture 2008/9. Research Series No.98.
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