The Extension Directorate at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries is concerned that the implementation of the Parish Development Model will falter in the initial stages, due to the small number of extension workers currently.
Agriculture is the main pillar of the model, which is aimed at taking development planning and resources to the Parish level and ensuring that the national development is embraced from the grassroots. This, according to the ministry, means that there has to be adequate staffing of agriculture extension workers, among other resources, if the sector, which employs more than three-quarters of Ugandans, is not left behind.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO recommends a ratio of one extension worker to 750 farmers, as adequate. However, according to Consolata Acayo, the Assistant Commissioner of Communication at the Directorate, currently in Uganda, one extension worker is supposed to cater for 1,800 farmers due to understaffing.
A recent survey of Ugandan farmers indicated that extension staff in Uganda only spend 5 per cent of their time with the farmers which is very little, according to experts.
She was speaking at the launch of the implementation of the Dialogue and Knowledge Communication Platforms in Uganda, an initiative of a global farmer information network, Farm Radio International (FRI). The initiative will provide leadership in the development of radio-based e-extension platforms that offer electronic-based extension services to smallholder farmers and rural communities.
Under the initiative, farmers use their mobile phones to make cost-free calls for any information about their agricultural needs, like weather information, information on a disease breakout, or inputs. The FRI has also partnered with radio stations and under this initiative, the selected radio station will have related programs through which farmers will interact with experts.
David Rupiny, the FRI Country Representative in Uganda, says the platform project will provide rural people with continuous communication service through interactive e-extension platforms that share knowledge, facilitate dialogue, give voice, and stimulate positive change.
At least 12 radio stations will be selected around the country as partners in the communication platform. The organisation says it chose to radio as the medium of their information delivery because, according to them, at least 80 per cent of Ugandans have access to radio.
State Minister for Agriculture, Fred Bwino Kyakulaga says the program will help respond to the challenge of the understaffing of the extension directorate and answer the challenge of limited extension staff when implementing the Parish Developement Model. He says that, unlike sentiments that agriculture will not develop the country, the sector can and will be the basis for Uganda’s development because it is one thing that cannot be separated from Ugandans.
In Uganda, 80 per cent of households in the country are involved in agriculture, with rural communities having even bigger numbers, however, only a fifth of these receive extension services, according to FRI.
The inadequate extension services make it difficult for farmers in Uganda to get access to reliable, up-to-date information about regenerative and circular agriculture.
Minister Kyakulaga however, says it will be difficult for the organisation to choose the best radio stations because of the high numbers of stations around the country, yet some are more preferred than others in the communities. But he says the most important aspect of radio in Uganda is the ability to cover most local languages.
On the high cost of the inputs, the Minister says most of the inputs are made in Europe, with a big part, especially petrochemical ones coming from Russia and Ukraine. He however says that the bigger challenge is the counterfeit goods on the market, adding that a select committee has been put in place to tackle these challenges.
Richard Muzaga, a smallholder farmer in Malongo, Buikwe District is one of the beneficiaries of the pilot project says that their main challenges are usually the shortage of extension workers and the now the rising cost of farm inputs like pesticides and fertilizers. He, however, hails the program for covering the gap left by the shortage of extension farmers, who, he says, are highly outstripped by the big number of farmers.
Mukwano Industries Ltd, one of the biggest markets for grain and cereals in Uganda also hails the program, saying it will help them with information that the farmers need because sometimes they are misled by unscrupulous produce buyers to rip them off. Robert Adwek, the Chief Operations Officer of Mukwano Industries says many farmers have lost a lot due to misinformation.
On how different this is from some previous and existing initiatives, the FRI Regional Program Manager for East and Southern Africa, Rex Chapota says the success of this will be based on evidence of impact in numbers of beneficiaries, needs solved and changes in incomes, among others. It also has a gender dimension with special approaches to extension services for women, youth and men.
But most importantly, Chapota says most initiatives have short timelines and usually leave farmers helpless after introducing them to a program, and that this will be different.
The first phase of the project will; enable more than 1.5 million rural people in Uganda to access the radio programs, and 525,000 listeners would use the service regularly, 40 per cent being women and youth. Additionally, the project will be exploring ways to create effective business and sustainability plans for the platforms, working with sponsors to ensure they will continue long into the future.