The 4th  Policy Seminar on Rural Development in Uganda held at Makerere

Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES)  has held the fourth policy seminar on rural development.

Rural Development, a process of improving the opportunities and well-being of rural people is of critical significance in Uganda where over 70 percent of the population still live in rural areas. Beyond agriculture, which is the mainstay of rural people, rural development encompasses health, nutrition, education, the environment, energy and a host of other social services to the rural people.

With support from the Government of Uganda through the Research and Innovation Fund (RIF), Makerere University, the CAES launched monthly policy seminar series to re-ignite the debate and bridge the existing knowledge gap between research and policy making around the issues of agricultural and rural development.

This initiative is being spearheaded by Dr. Rosemary Emegu Isoto as the Principal Investigator, Prof. Bernard Bashaasha and Prof. Hyuha Theodora from the School of Agricultural Sciences.

The  fourth CAES Policy Seminar  was held  on  20th April,  2021  at the Food Science Conference Room at Makerere University.

Dr. Henry Nakalet Opolot presenting during the seminar

The main speaker was  Dr. Henry Nakelet Opolot, Commissioner, Agricultural Extension and Skills Management, and Coordinator, Agriculture Cluster Development Project, Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

Dr. Nakalet’s keynote was titled, “The Centrality of Agricultural Extension Services to Agro Industrialization Agenda in Uganda: Policy Implications”. The event was also graced by Dr. Salim Nahdy, Executive Director- African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS).

The Project PI, Dr. Rosemary Isoto said, the project provides a platform where all researchers that have research output to policy makers make presentations to an audience composed of different researchers  policy advisors, policy makers, students  among others.

Through this platform Dr. Isoto said,, researchers come and  give an overview of basically what the research was about and the research and  policy implications that hopefully the policy makers are able to  make policies that are evidence based.

She said the objectives of the project are to provide a platform for this kinds of meetings done once a month; Ensure that there is capacity building among the graduate students in which they are trained to produce policy briefs and policy summaries that speak to the policy makers and;  Skilling the students on different methods of data collection using tools such as  stata to produce results that can be turned into policies.

“This time we focused on agricultural extension system first, and fore most, in our second seminar we talked about Agro Industrialization.  We cannot be able to achieve Agro Industrialization without enough output coming from the farmers.

How are we going to get high productivity if we employ extension farmers, So we thought it would be a very good bridge to have education  extension  research  that is feeding into Agro Industrialization because of  the importance it has in ensuring that we transform agriculture from subsistence to commercial”, Dr. Isoto  explained.

Dr. Henry Nakelet Opolot, from the Department of Agricultural Extension & Skills Management, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry & Fisheries  said government is to adopt the Parish Model  to strengthen the extension services up the village level.

Dr. Opolot observed that, Agriculture training at primary has been less emphasized over time and if future famers are to be trained, there is need for people to learn agriculture from the young age.

The commissioner said, it is desired that school gardens are revived where school children can practically learn   and then apply what is learnt at school in their homes so that eventually, people grow up with a liking for agriculture and as they advance in education, they have the skills as  farmers  with knowledge  learnt from school not as peasants but with a view of agriculture as business not a punishment.

Some of the participants attending the seminar at the School of Food Science conference room

In terms of training Dr. Opolot said, it is desired that young people are involved by designing strategies of re-establishing school farms to be part of the school feeding program and also for learning agriculture.

The Commissioner was concerned that many agricultural training institutions have been transformed into universities therefore training degree holders and less of the diploma and certificate holders who used to be more practical.

 “The effect is  very apparent that in the extension system, there are concerns of low skills in extension workers because we are recruiting more of degree holders who in by nature of their training have not done practicals to get the skills to advise farmers practically.

There is need for designed programs to retool and skill graduate students to become more practical to deliver quality extension services to farmers and more emphasis to strengthen the diploma and certificate holders as government rolls out the parish model to strengthen extension services in the villages through vocational skills”, Dr. Opolot  stated.

In his key note address Dr. Opolot said the NDP III goal is to increase household incomes and improve quality of life of Ugandans as it envisions a transformed (from peasant to modern) Ugandan society in 30 years while he Agriculture Sector Vision is to transform subsistence farming to commercial agriculture.

Agro-Industrialization according to Dr. Opolot is seen as key to achieving the desired transformation for inclusive & equitable growth, positive trade balance, high value products for exports, import substitution, improved postharvest handling & price stabilization, and job creation.

The Commissioner reported that an effective agricultural extension system is central to Agro Industrialisation agenda in facilitating dissemination and uptake of improved agricultural technologies, and application of new knowledge leading to innovations along entire in agricultural value chains beyond crop & animal husbandry levels.

He however noted that, for the system to be effective, it requires, systematic mechanism to access & package relevant information for utilization, strong linkage between research/academia, extension, farmers and other value chain actors and continuous predictable & institutional hands-on skills development.

“Its role relatively underexplored in the recent past, agricultural extension is the heart and soul of the knowledge base without which efforts to improve production efficiency, competitiveness for smallholder commercialization to catalyze Agro Industrialisation (AGI) are less effective”. He said.

Government strategy and key output for agriculture extension services  in NDP III

Dr. Opolot said, pursuant to Vision 2040, AGI programme in NDP III aims at increasing agricultural production and productivity; improving post-harvest handling and storage of agricultural products; increasing agro-processing and value addition and  market access and competitiveness of agricultural products in the markets;

The NDP III he said, aims at increasing access and utilization of agricultural finance and insurance; strengthening agriculture sector institutional capacities for Agro-Industrialisation and that to achieve the above, strengthening the agricultural extension system is among the key carefully selected priority interventions.

The commissioner outlined the key output areas for agricultural extension in NDP III which  include strengthen coordination of national agriculture extension systems through; Recruiting, skilling and equipping the recruited agricultural extension workers up to parish level beyond crop and animal husbandry; Profiling, registering and accrediting agricultural extension service providers in all districts to ensure harmony and standards in agricultural extension service delivery with the  right people/organizations  undertaking agricultural extension in line with national strategic direction.; Developing and promoting harmonized information communication and education materials for priority value chains..

Prof. Bernard Bashaasha moderating during one of the sessions

Another key output areas for agricultural extension in NDP III  is to develop and operationalize an ICT-enabled agricultural extension delivery and supervision system through; developing and promoting ICT applications  (e-extension systems) for real-time knowledge and information sharing and  deployment of staff to village levels; promoting the use of e-Diary in the supervision of extension service providers and reporting from village to national level.

The other key output  of extension service  in the NDP III he said, is supporting the scaling-up of innovative extension models such as nucleus, model & lead farmers, in all agro-ecological zones through identifying and supporting nucleus/lead farmers at the parish level and also identifying, training and supporting village agents/community-based facilitators.

Dr. Opolot also said NDP III is to strengthen the research/academia-extension-farmer linkages to increase the uptake of new technologies through establishing and supporting zonal agricultural extension units. (Researchers, Extensionists, Farmers, Private sector) so that extension services delivery is research supported and market driven., establishing and strengthening commodity stakeholder platforms at district, zonal and national levels and ; support mobilization and organization of farmers into production, value addition, and cooperatives to increase their production and agribusiness efficiency and collective bargaining and marketing.

The other key output in the NDP III is the incorporation of agricultural tertiary and vocational training institutions into agricultural extension system to ensure that what is taught in institutions is relevant to the end users.

NDP III Areas of focus and achievements

Dr. Opolot reported that NDP III areas of focus are consistent with the National Agricultural Extension Policy 2016 and National Agricultural Extension Strategy 2016/17 – 2020/21 – policy framework documents guiding agricultural extension services delivery since re-establishment of the functions in MAAIF in 2014.

He told participants that, to reform the public extension service, GoU in 2014 adopted in 2014 following policy reform to restructure NAADS aimed at establishing a well-coordinated, harmonized, farmer-centered pluralistic extension services delivery.

Through the reform, Dr. Opolot said  achievements have been registered including  the establishment of the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES) at MAAIF and rreconstructed the DLGs extension structure providing for 5000 extension workers with 4,063 recruited by January 2020 thus reducing Extension : Farmer ratio from 1:5000 in 2014 to 1:1800.

“Several policy instruments developed to harmonise standards in service delivery: Guidelines and Standards for agricultural extension services, Ethical Code of Conduct for Agricultural Extension Workers; Guidelines for Registration and Accreditation of Service Providers; Procedures for development of agricultural extension materials, and Agricultural Extension Operational Manual.

Strategic partnerships created through MoUs with several strategic State and Non-State Actors supporting capacity building for extension workers, farmers and other value chain actors.

Budget allocation in LGs increased progressively from UGX 36 billion in 2015/16 to UGX 129.50 bn in 2018/19 – although 61% less of planned UGX 333 bn”, Dr. Nakalet Opolot reported.

In addition Dr. Opolot said there has been an upward trend of production for most commodities since 2015 – associated with interventions such as input supplies, improved extension services and research, private sector investments as well as access to markets.

Policy concerns / challenges to the attainment of the desired effective agricultural extension and advisory system

While some positive results since the reforms are observed, the commissioner said, there still exist some challenges to the attainment of the desired effective agricultural extension and advisory system – above all, to drive Agro-industrialization.

Key policy concerns according to the keynote speaker include  the high Extension worker – to – farmer household ration as opposed to the International standard of 1:500 with a 5000 approved capacity structure, ratio is 1:1500 and the  current substantive deployment is about 3,800 (retirements, mobility & deaths) – ratio at 1:1,800.

He also said there are few Veterinary Doctors yet livestock subsector development is an Agro-industrialization priority – some districts have no more than 2 vet officers, Animal Husbandry not a substitute for critical vet services with Makerere the only University training vets.

The other policy concern according the Commissioner is low (practical) knowledge & skills of field extension workers beyond crop and animal husbandry practices and the inadequate human resources aggravated by existence of numerous unskilled extension workers.

“Uganda does not have the skills necessary for industrialization and there is limited/unavailable technicians in irrigation, mechanization, artificial insemination in a changing climate and evolving technology world.

Majority (62.3%) general tertiary enrolment for degrees – only 3 institutions providing diploma & certificates in agricultural fields. There is difficulty for diploma holders to upgrade in vet and agriculture while practical training environment/opportunities for students  are limited due to weak collaboration between academic, gov’t & private sector institutions”, Dr. Opolot stated

Dr. Henry Nakelet Opolot and the PI Dr. Rosemary Isoto interact after the photo session

The other policy concerns fronted were the poor work standards and ethics for extension agents. It was observed that monitoring and supervision of deliverables by extension workers in support of agro-industrialization is still wanting. Currently, Dr. Opolot said,  performance is based on outputs – numbers trained, inputs distributed, information materials developed/ printed/ distributed, meetings held, trips undertaken, and groups formed which applies also to most if not all workers Multiple/parallel extension service models were also identified as a key policy concern

With the multiple state and non-state actors still implementing parallel activities – delivering non-uniform massages, duplication of services, inefficient resource utilization as well as farmer fatigue and limited institutional memory.

The commissioner  said there is a weak linkage between academic research and country programmes  in that many programs designed and implemented but with limited critical inquiry, learning is lost affecting relevance of academic research to national development.

Key policy actions

Among the key policy actions, Dr. Opolot  proposed the need to bridge  the Human Resource gap through recruitment of personnel to fill the staff gap as per the current staffing provision while considering more technicians in AI, Fisheries, Irrigation, Mechanization, and primary processing

The other policy action he said  is the use of ICTs; Lead farmers/village agents/community-based facilitators (concept of farmer-to-farmer extension); Commercial (Nucleus) farmers and Cooperatives be encouraged/supported to recruit extension workers (just like private health or education institutions employ technical staff).

Introducing Ethical & Professional standards for extension agents at national level was another policy action put forth. This according to Dr. Opolot would entail  developing  new outcome/impact targets for extension agent assessment e.g. lead/model farmers supported, and the level of transition to commercial agriculture in a given time through improvement in practices, productivity, marketed volumes of produce/products, incomes and quality of life

Secondly,  it would entail adoption of  the “Results-Based Financing (RBF)” approach to incentivize agricultural extension service delivery and the introduction of at least a one-year post graduate apprenticeship at certified host farms/firms/institutions for practical and professional skills acquisition in the field of agricultural sciences.

A section of participants attending the seminar

Speaking on the policy environment, Dr. Opolot   expressed the need to update and operationalize National Guiding Frameworks to a New National Agricultural Extension Strategy. He noted that the Department of Agriculture and Extension Services needs to operate well-coordinated, harmonized, regulated pluralistic services where multiple providers roll out to address diverse needs under the Single spine extension system.

Accordingly, he said, all state and non-state extension services should be coordinated at the District Production Department; to deliver uniform messages on a single subject, avoid duplication of services, ensure efficient resource utilization as well as minimizing farmer fatigue and limited institutional memory.

In addition, Dr, Opolot suggested the National Agricultural Extension Bill as a regulatory framework to enforce standards, registration, certification and accreditation of agricultural professionals. This he said , will be mandated to regulate   the   registration,   licensing   and   the   eligibility   for   agricultural professionals to continue practice, while promoting public confidence in the practice of agricultural extension advisory services.

“A strong, well-coordinated and effective agricultural extension and advisory system is central in the government’s pursuit for Agro-industrialization as a vehicle for economic transformation.

A multi-stakeholder strategy to resolve bottlenecks and create an enabling environment for farmers and other value chain actors to see/make money in agriculture is required for Agricultural Extension System to have impact”, Dr.  Opolot concluded.

Report compiled by;
Jane Ayango
Communication Officer, CAES

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