How to improve Uganda’s agricultural research and extension services

For a nation aspiring toward a knowledge-led economy, research and extension services are invaluable. Uganda’s research and extension arms, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) and national Agricultural Aisory Services (Naads) have, however, struggled in recent times. Naro’s relationship with key research stakeholders, particularly institutions of higher learning, remains weak.
To widen its resource and research pool, Naro must intensively engage, as research partners, agricultural technology-oriented institutions such as Busitema and Makerere. It is a requirement for graduate students to conceptualise ideas. Unfortunately, these theorised inventions often remain locked up in shelved spiral-bound books. By partnering with these institutions, Naro would assume responsibilities of translating these ideas and inventions beyond student prototypes. Busitema University is a classic example. Passing its fourth lot of Irrigation Engineers in October, Naro could help further develop student prototype irrigation projects.
The failures of Naads, of course, need no explanation, except the observation that the success of agricultural extension is measured by how well the capacity of rural farmers to independently engage in meaningful agriculture is built. Only the right professionals and the right approaches can accomplish this. The President’s recent decision to restructure the Naads programme with soldiers at the helm, though well-meant, was misinformed. Enlisting the soldier recruits to Makerere University reportedly for agricultural training further contradicted the reasons. If financial management was the major problem facing Naads, then the recruits should have been enlisted in a college of commerce to learn financial discipline!
Traditionally, Naads and other agricultural support organisations, including cooperatives providing extension services, have engaged farmers by hiring personnel and equipping them with motorcycles to routinely traverse rural areas adn train farmers. This approach of leaving the management of agricultural enterprises to farmers while extension workers only aise, monitor and supervise was always destined to fail in our conservative, largely illiterate farmer communities.
Reversing this approach is the answer. The rationale is that because extension personnel and organisations are equipped with knowledge and finances respectively. They assume, in the beginning, 90 per cent of production responsibilities while the farmer is progressively orientated. In citrus production, for example, the support organisation like Naads engages individual households, purchases and plants seedlings. The responsibility of maintaining the orchard in the farmer’s backyard, spraying, routine agronomic practices from planting to harvesting and cooperatives-marketing, remains the organisation’s duty through its extension personnel. If the venture fails, it is the organisation’s loss.
During the farming season, the farmer progressively learns on the job by assisting the extension worker. Seasons down the road, the farmer would not only have learnt production techniques but having seen financial returns, would have gained sustainable interest in the venture. Attendant financial implications to the organisation are offset through a financial arrangement with the farmer. After harvest and sale, the farmer gets say 20 per cent of the money realised while the rest belongs to the organisation.
Ultimately, as the farmer learns and takes on more responsibilities in assisting the extension worker, the curve of profit sharing progressively reverses until the farmer takes 100 per cent of enterprise profits. Then the farmer’s capacity would have risen to a level where heshe needs very minimal supervision. Moreover, the aspiration to reverse the profit sharing ratio to his favour is incentive enough for the farmer to learn, and independently adopt a given practice or technology.

Mr Ebitu studied agricultural mechanisation and irrigation engineering.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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