It takes a village to develop a village. This seems to be the guiding principle for the new initiative by Agrisave, a consortium of six partners, which intends to target two million village farmers in 10 years.
The consortium includes commercial farmers, research institutions, commercial technology firms, and a bank. Modelled on South Korea’s Saemaul Undongo, literally meaning a “New village movement”, it is hoped that each of the two million farmers will mentor six people. This will bring the number of farmers to be transformed to 12 million by 2025.
Dr Gudula Naiga Basaza, the chief of party for Agrisave, told The Observer that the initiative is premised on the fact that it’s the people themselves that can pave for their development.
“We are targeting 10 districts every year, which will translate into 100 districts in 10 years,” said Basaza, describing the initiative as “the first ever private sector-led initiative to transform smallholder farmers into middle- class entrepreneurs.”
Recently, 90 ambassadors were trained for 10 days at Gudie leisure farm in Najjeera, Wakiso district. Park Jong-Dea, the South Korean ambassador to Uganda, presided over the pass-out. He advised the implementers to talk less and work more. According to the arrangement, the ambassadors will be paid a daily allowance for the first few months and then be paid a salary later.
The ambassadors will first train farmers on what Basaza describe as a “mindset change.” The selected farmers will be met individually.
“We want to first change that mindset most people have that to start something, you must have a lot of money or a lot of land,” said Basaza, who is also the deputy chairperson for the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) and chairperson of Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Ltd (UWEAL).
The farmers, she said, would then be taught how best they could save some money from their modest incomes. Then the farmers would be mentored into income-generating projects that they preferred. The projects include piggery, dairy farming, poultry keeping, seeds such as maize, soya, sunflower, and vegetables such as tomatoes and green pepper.
The farmers will then be helped in opening up a bank account. The rollout is already underway in Isingiro in western Uganda. The intention is to target 50,000 smallholder farmers from this district. The cost of the activities in each district will be $500,000 (about Shs 1.4bn).
According to the 2013/2014 Agriculture yearbook, negative bias by policymakers, financiers, and extension workers against smallholder farmers is one of the reasons behind the stalled efforts to commercialise the agricultural sector.
“It is likely that a significant proportion of agricultural households are now virtually landless, farming only small plot(s) of land if any,” said the yearbook, which comprised papers by Bank of Uganda, German Cooperation (GIZ), USAID, aBi Trust, and Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC).
Unlike South Korea’s initiative, which was funded by the government, this will be funded by donors and some money will be raised by the Agrisave member farms. Korea’s model, which became famous in the 1970s, saw bridges built, roads paved, and village halls built, among others. The Agrisave initiative will work to improve the household income by boosting the farmers’ production.
Samuel Niiwo, the executive director of Uganda National Entrepreneurship Development Institute (Unedi), one of the partner firms, said they had “taken Korea’s model because it touches directly the last farmer in the village.”
Other partners are Gudie Leisure Farm, Dfcu bank, Mutanoga Dairy Farm, Equator seeds, International Medical Link, ERAM Uganda Ltd, Crest tanks ltd, Immaculate formation, and Women of Africa Fuels and Oils, among others. The farmers would also be provided with the market for their produce, according to Basaza.
“We have someone who wants one million chickens weekly, but we can’t provide now. We want these farmers to look at that opportunity.”