Agriculture minister Tress Bucyanayandi has said he was sure right from the start the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) was destined to fail.
“I was an agricultural extension officer for a long time. I was one of the people who were involved in designing the programme and I knew this thing [Naads] was going to fail,” Bucyanayandi said.
He was speaking at the closure of a one-day workshop on agricultural transformation themed, Revitalizing Cooperatives for Smart Agriculture and Social, Economic Transformation at Golf Course hotel recently. The conference was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to discuss ways of reviving cooperatives in Uganda.
Naads was started in 2001 to provide agricultural extension services, agricultural technology and market information to farmers. Government spent billions of taxpayers’ money on the programme for more than a decade – a lot of it was stolen or mismanaged.
Bucyanayandi, who was also a commissioner for agriculture in the ministry and later managing director of Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) before joining politics, said: “I objected particularly on extension services; I certainly knew that it was not going to work”.
He blamed Naads programme for the demise of agricultural extension services in the country. After the programme was embroiled in perennial corruption and mismanagement allegations, President Museveni suspended it twice before ordering its restructuring last year.
Consequently, all district Naads coordinators were shown exit. The president expressed dismay that whereas government had injected a lot of money into the programme since 2001, it had not caused change to local farmers.
“This money always stops at the top in the salaries of the Naads coordinators and [farmers] don’t get the money,” he said last year. The president has since put the army to manage Naads, a move critics say won’t change much since the army is not trained in agricultural extension services.
Charles Ogang, the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) president, agreed with the minister on the need to revive extension services in the country.
“Agricultural extension services was limping under liberalisation; this has to change,” Ogang said.
He asked the ministry to develop a comprehensive agricultural extension policy to guide implementation of agricultural extension programmes at national and local government levels. Meanwhile, the minister said government was going back to its former agricultural extension services model before Naads.
“We are now trying to rebuild the extension system at national level. We have instituted the directorate of extension services,” he said, adding that this would be instrumental in coordinating extension services from national level to districts and finally to farmers.
Agnes Kirabo, the executive director of Food Rights Alliance (FRA), warned of piecemeal government interventions, arguing that other than addressing Naads in isolation, government should focus on revitalising agriculture in general and restructure the entire economy.
About 66 per cent of Ugandans eke a living from the sector, mostly subsistence farming. Naads was expected to help farmers move to commercial farming to boost their incomes – it failed miserably.