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Uganda’s Agricultural Extension System


First, the disclaimer: This analysis is borne of the desire for genuine learning and understanding. It has no intent of divisive party politics as currently polarising Uganda. Credit for the photo of Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony goes to theindianbean  

I have re-listened to the recording that I made of the presentation that the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF) made during the recent Joint Agricultural Sector Annual Review (JASAR) that was held at Speke Resort Hotel, Munyonyo from 29th to 30th August 2016. 

In particular, this morning, I re-listened to the part of the presentation which was dedicated to agricultural extension. I have re-listened now three times and I remain confused. 

What exactly does the current Uganda Agricultural Extension System mean in practice? 

The answer to this question should be straight forward for after all, according to MAAIF, “agricultural extension is the heart and soul of the agriculture sector.” However, from the MAAIF presentation at JASAR it is not plainly clear what that heart and soul of the agriculture sector really currently is in practice.

So, I decided to do some other reading around the subject in the hope that I would find a clear straight forward answer – even perhaps from previous MAAIF documentation. So I Google searched with key words: “agriculture extension Uganda.” 

Several media stories that were published mostly in the Government owned publication “The New Vision” were part of the search results of links to stories on Uganda’s agricultural extension services. In those stories high level government officials – technical and political – are quoted sharing the official Government position and at the same time giving what seems their own personal opinions.

This is what I deduced from reading the stories and from the MAAIF JASAR presentation:

  • There was a system in Uganda in which government extension workers were based at district level (lets refer to it as district agricultural extension - DAE). 
  • That the DAE was supply driven, where by the Government provided top down extension.
  • The DAE was assessed a failure for it was reportedly too rigid to adapt to changing environments in the sector and to be relevant for commercialisation of agriculture.
  • The DAE was disbanded and the National Agriculture Advisory Development Services (NAADS) was established, running parallel and outside of the fold of the District Local Governments (DLG).
  • NAADS was considered different from the DAE for it was touted as based on the principle of demand driven extension services. 
  • Initially, NAADS focused on giving only advice and so a significant proportion of its budget was on human resources, workshops and conferences. 
  • NAADS expenditure on human resources, workshops and conferences was criticised as money squandering and it was determined that those resources would be better utilised in providing inputs to farmers.
  • Subsequently, NAADS was required to abandon its original purpose and to then transform into an agricultural input procurement and distribution agency. 
  • The NAADS secretariat was re-organised and a significant number of technical persons – multiple thousands – over 4,200 – lost their employment as extension service providers.
  • Logically, an organisation originally set up as an advisory unit now turned into a procurement and distribution agency, seemingly failed at both roles. 
  • The failure of NAADS was however credited to corrupt officials without good work ethic.
  • The Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), the Army, was deployed to take over the role of seed distribution through Operation Wealth Creation (OWC)
  • Prior to taking on their new assignment Makerere University Kampala trained soldiers in agriculture – a two-week course.
  • It would appear that the dual system of NAADS procures and UPDF distributes did not work out either.
  • The NAADS district structure has been disbanded, its coordinators let go and a soldier per constituency was deployed to monitor government programmes, especially the four acre model that is the epicentre of OWC.
  • Using soldiers to do agricultural extension was justified on grounds that the Army follows orders and once they are given an order they execute it corruption free.
  • Currently, elements of OWC, NAADS and the DAE have been consolidated into the Single Spine Agricultural Extension (SSAE) system under the newly created MAAIF Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services.
  • The SSAE is re-incorporating extension service provision back within DLG structures similar to how the DAE used to work.

If as you read this you are not confused as I am, then you obviously have far superior intelligence than most, I dare say. Seemingly, extension services delivery models in Uganda are going around in circles. 

My confusion was deepened at the JASAR for at no time did anyone historicise Uganda’s extension service. I am convinced that in a forum such as JASAR in which a major part is to review past performance, it is of necessity to have historicised extension service provision in particular. To historicise it would have given us, the general public, basis on which to constructively critique the agricultural sector.

We learnt at the JASAR that among the main achievements of the MAAIF during the year in review were: 

  • A policy guide for agricultural extension services – articulating the SSAE - has been drafted. 
  • An agricultural impact assessment tool has been developed.
  • The agricultural extension strategy has been drafted.
  • National agricultural management strategy has been drafted with the assistance from World Bank (am not certain whether assistance was monetary, advisory or both).
  • An agro-processing and marketing strategy has been drafted

Perhaps those documents do contain valid information that will ameliorate my confusion. I intend to find out.

What I did not learn at the JASAR is how exactly the DAE, NAADS, OWC and now the SSAE truly differ. How exactly are they principally different? How have the unique principal differences enhanced or not extension service provision when each was in use? Or is it the case of renaming the same practise with different brand names? What were the genuine lessons learned that are actually informing the decision to retain OWC under the UPDF and at the same time under MAAIF, for example?

Really, what has been the impact of each system in terms of genuine extension service provision at the grassroots level? Take for example, which system best provided livestock extension services? After all, at the JASAR we were told that during the year in review livestock extension service provision reached only 29 percent of households in comparison to crop extension services which reached 65 percent of households.

The analysis that provided the 29 and 65 percentages was, according to MAAIF, on the basis of its analysis of data from eight districts: Bukedea, Kween, Buvuma, Agago, Maracha, Mukono, Terego and Ntugamo. Is it feasible that if districts from the Karamoja sub-region, where pastoralism is a way of life and which host a significant proportion of Uganda’s livestock were included in the analysis, the percentage for livestock extension services would have been different? I think so and likely far less.

Be that as it may, even with 65 percent of households reached by crop extension services, according to MAAIF, Uganda looses 20-30 percent of its harvest at post harvest handling. Which of the four systems – DAE, NAADS, OWC and SSAE – have demonstrated better results in ensuring reduction in post harvest handling? These are the comparative analysis that I was expecting to have been presented with at the JASAR, but were not.

While appreciating that the theme for the JASAR 2016 was: “Enhancing Agricultural Production for Job Creation”, I still wondered at MAAIF’s priority crops and commodities. They seemed to be those crops President Museveni often categorises as colonial and exploitative crops such as coffee, cotton and cocoa - crops that are grown in Uganda mostly for the benefit of export for consumption by the global-west. 

I wondered why the state, MAAIF, need focus on providing extension services for such crops. Extension services for cash crops such as these, some would argue, should be the sole responsibility of the private sector, including as well such crops as oil palm, rice, commercial diary production, cassava chips, etc.

What I did not discern from the JASAR was how MAAIF was actually providing extension services for Uganda’s indigenous food crops. And in my view, this should be its major focus and for two major reasons: 1) to feed the nation; and 2) to earn income for the nation through sale of our own indigenous food products. 

MAAIF instead, for example, plans to import Belgium Blue animals in order to rear them for the purpose of exporting beef. This is as opposed to providing the much needed livestock extension services for our Zebu animals; which services could ensure that the meat from our Zebu animals could be the product that Uganda markets as a specialised food product that is uniquely from Uganda.  

Same with Uganda’s coffee, instead of Uganda developing its own unique coffee culture, at the JASAR we experienced Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) fully mimicking the coffee culture of the global west. An investigation into the cost of the imported plastic/paper cup and that of the coffee in, it in my view, could prove to be interesting – in the sense that the actual monetary cost of the cup is likely higher than the cost of the coffee in it. 

Why is it for example that Government, in this case UCDA, does not innovate from inside out as opposed to mimicking the global-west? Why not, for example, develop a uniquely Uganda coffee culture, in a similar manner as Ethiopia has its own internationally recognised coffee ceremony – where coffee beans are roasted, grounded and brewed in front of you?

Yes, the JASAR while it provided valuable information, on matters extension service provision it raised for me a lot more questions for which I am searching for answers.  

This article is written by Norah Owaraga, CPAR Uganda Ltd Managing Director (April 2012 to date). Read more about her here. Please note that Norah’s views are not necessarily those of CPAR Uganda Ltd.