When the top brass in the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) converged last week at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi, the aim was to brainstorm about the best way to put agriculture at the forefront of the country’s economic planning.
It is a fact that the agricultural sector is the biggest employer in the country with an engagement of more than 70 per cent yet its contribution to the country’s GDP is a meagre 26 per cent.
So, it is on this background that Agriculture minister Frank Tumwebaze mobilized top-level ministry officials to Kyankwanzi for a five-day retreat to strategize on agro-industrialization of the sector.
In attendance were state ministers Bright Rwamirama (Animal Industry), Hellen Adoa (Fisheries) and Fred Bwino Kyakulaga (Agriculture) as well as ministry permanent secretary Maj Gen David Kasura-Kyomukama. The retreat was also graced by Florence Mutyabule, the senior presidential adviser on poverty alleviation in Busoga, ministry commissioners and directors of agencies, among others.
During the retreat, participants unpacked components of the agriculture value chain, production and productivity, post-harvest handling and storage, value addition and market.
IMPROVED SERVICE DELIVERY
While closing the retreat, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja asked the participants to put improved service delivery on top of their agenda for the next five years.
“As President Museveni tasked us, this term is about improving service delivery. It is incumbent upon you to ensure that we improve service delivery. Plan to uplift Ugandan farmers, and not your own lives as bureaucrats. Expenditures on endless and unnecessary workshops must stop,” she said.
“For MAAIF in particular, we all know the general outcry from our farmers on problems of poor agricultural inputs, lack of extension services, lack of markets, lack of water for production, among others. It is high time that we improved service delivery to our farmers.”
HARMONIZATION OF EXTENSION SERVICES
Notably, the ministry officials harmonized their thinking to mitigate the problems associated with extension services to farmers in all parts of the country. An extension official is an agriculture expert that teaches farmers the best agricultural practices to better and increase yields.
Yet throughout Tumwebaze’s recent countrywide tour, he found frustration with extension workers whose impact on farmers was minimal due to uncoordinated mandates of various top-level ministry officials.
“We have resolved to use a multi-prolonged approach to deliver knowledge to the farmers because it is essentially farming education, just like URA embarks on tax education or health education from the health sector,” he said.
“So, we have renamed extension to mean farming education such that everybody can understand it. We shall use our extension officers in the districts to deliver knowledge on agronomy, good yields and how to achieve them and on post-harvest handling as the whole value chain dictates.”
However, because the extension staff are inadequate to cover the whole country, the ministry plans to leverage the media as partners.
“We shall sign partnerships with assigned media outlets to teach the farmers and public at large. We are also going to partner farmers who already have existing knowledge and have success stories from using various farming methods. We shall sign memorandums with such successful farmers to designate them as extension centres for others to learn. We shall also deliver extension through licensing and regulating private people,” he said.
STREAMLINING OF ROLES
In many ways, this retreat was about defining the What, the How, and the Who. Participants further observed that MAAIF greatly needs to work closely with strategic partners after identifying key areas that can best be achieved through collaboration.
“We will seek group approach through dialogue with Ministry of Trade, the Private Sector Foundation and farmers’ organizations such as Uganda National Farmers Federation, among others,” noted Tumwebaze.
“We can achieve big by harmonizing our thinking, planning, and focus on correct budgeting despite the available resources in our reserves. If there is a deficit in budget hindering the realigning process, we shall inform parliament and cabinet that for agriculture to move forward, we need to implement several outlined processes.”
Meanwhile, Mutyabule seized the opportunity to rally the Agriculture ministry top hierarchy to give Busoga sub-region special focus due to the persistent high poverty levels. She relied on the recent report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) that ranked Busoga as the poorest sub-region in the country.
The report blamed Busoga’s woes on the high population growth and overreliance on sugarcane growing, an enterprise with low incomes.
To this, Rwamirama noted that selecting the right enterprise is key in any agriculture venture. “There is need to educate these communities on thriving enterprises, which agro inputs are necessary for success and how best to manage population growth,” he said. “No matter the amount of wealth you accumulate, if your dependants are many, quality of life may not improve.”
Meanwhile, Tumwebaze advised Mutyabule that it is prudent for the ministry to visit Busoga and get information from the grassroots in order to forge the best way forward. He suggested a stakeholders’ meeting at Kasolwe stock ranch soon to educate communities on how to get the best out of their agricultural enterprises.