A Brief History of Public Extension Policies, Resources and Advisory Activities in Uganda
Public sector extension, in both developed and developing countries, is undergoing major reforms. In Uganda, these reforms include privatization of funding, delivery of extension, and decentralization of authority to lower levels of government, including delegation to NGOs, farmer organizations, and other grassroots control (Bashaasha et al., 2011). The decentralization in Uganda has been characterized by a transfer of powers, functions, and responsibilities for planning and implementation of agricultural extension services from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries (MAAIF) to district local governments. MAAIF was left with the role of planning and policy formulation, regulatory functions, technical backstopping and training, setting standards for and monitoring performance of the agricultural sector, and managing funds of selected projects. Extension workers at the district level were put under the direction of the local district governments (Friis-Hansen and Kisauzi 2004).
Following the agricultural policy reforms, the government has been implementing the Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture. One component of the plan is the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) program which goal is to increase market-oriented production through empowering farmers to demand and control extension services. NAADS is an innovative public-private extension approach, and the main components of this approach include decentralization, outsourcing, farmer empowerment, market orientation, and cost-recovery (Anderson, 2007). Under the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) Act , the public extension system was gradually phased out and replaced by a contract privatized system implemented by NAADS, a new statutory semiautonomous body under the MAAIF and implemented within a broader policy framework of a multi-sectorial Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA), decentralization, liberalization, and privatization (Mangheni 2007)
Regarding agricultural extension and advisory services, decentralization coincided with other reforms namely, civil service reform, privatization, and liberalization of service delivery, which attracted a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to offer services. NGOs supplemented the efforts of local governments and largely improved service delivery in the targeted areas. However, except for areas serviced by NGOs, the majority of the country does not readily access extension services, because districts are unable to cover the operational expenses. One particular aspect of agricultural extension in Uganda is the implementation of a private extension model found mostly in industrialized countries. Under the private model, the farmer is expected to pay some of the cost of extension with the hope that public outlays on extension will be reduced (Anderson and Crowder, 2000). While there is little evidence to date that small scale farmers can pay for extension services and improve their livelihoods, the financial sustainability of the system remains questionable.
Any government’s commitment to developing a viable and efficient agricultural extension system starts with the development of human capital to deliver extension advices and services to farmers. In Uganda, MAAIF had relied on a staff of 4,300 extension officers comprised of subject matter specialists, county extension coordinators, field extension workers and extension staff at the district institutes to implement its agricultural extension program. After the decentralization, this number was reduced to 2,000 (Nygaard et al. 1997:22) raising concerns about the government’s ability to extend services to a larger number of farmers. The current landscape of Uganda agricultural extension and advisory services is the result of many recovery policies implemented by the government over time to rehabilitate the country’s dwindling economy. These policies include but are not limited to: decentralization, privatization, liberalization, civil service reform program, unification of extension service, a modified Training and Visit system of extension, and modernization of agriculture (Mwanje & Duvel, 1998).
Major Institutions Providing Extension/advisory Services in the Country
The public sector is represented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and its five major departments including the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), Makerere University, other Education and Research Institutions around the country. These institutions provide extension services through various departments and institutes some of which are listed below:
Private Sector Firms
The liberalization of service delivery to farmers led to a proliferation of private companies operating at the grassroots level, and the provision of channels for information and service delivery to farmers. These private firms hired full-time staff to provide the package of services required for the production and marketing of their commodity of interest. In many instances the government contracts private firms to offer services to the people. Whereas the emergence of numerous private extension organizations is not a problem, what appear to be problematic is the lack of effective coordination and monitoring and evaluation of their efforts. Clear guidelines need to be developed as new partnerships between the government and the private sector are created.
Non-Governmental Organizations and other Donors
In Uganda, the growth of the NGO sector goes back to the 1970s and 1980s, when many NGOs came in to fill the gap left by the collapse of the government. Some of these NGOs are identified with a particular church or religion and others are associated with a particular commodity. Most NGOs in Uganda are funded by international non-governmental organizations and bilateral donors, and recently the government of Uganda started partnering with NGOs in providing funding for development projects. Prior to decentralization of agricultural extension system, many NGO were already active in the field delivering extension services to farmers. The liberalization of the public sector that open the way to private firms’ involvement in agricultural extension also invited NGOs to increase their role as partners in bringing information and new technologies to farmers. NGOs are assisting the Government of Uganda in its efforts to increase food production and productivity and reduce rural poverty.
Farmer Based Organizations and Cooperatives
A great diversity of civil society organizations including cooperatives, producers organizations and farmers associations mostly related to agriculture and rural activities exist in Uganda. For example cooperative movement has played a substantial role in the way farmer organizations have evolved in Uganda. Because of its wide-spread network, cooperative have become one of the major participants in input and product markets in rural areas reaching most of the villages (Diaz, 2005). Overtime these cooperatives evolved into a more powerful organization known as the Uganda Cooperative Alliance (UCA) that stood as a serious government partner in rural development. With regard to producer organizations, the government with the support of the
Donor community, promoted the constitution of an association to bring together farmers and the existing organizations. The Uganda National Farmers Association UNFA was constituted in 1992 and an institutional platform for dialogue with the government was created (Diaz, 2005). With decentralization and the need to open to more organizations nationwide UNFA adopted a federative scheme and became the Uganda National Farmers’ Federation, UNFFE.
Uganda has gone through several policy reforms in the struggle to curb poverty and empower its people. The implication of some of these reforms like the liberalization and decentralization of the agricultural extension system is that in Uganda, too many organizations including public sector institutions, farmers’ associations, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and community-based organizations are involved in the delivery of agricultural extension services. While private sector and NGOs’ involvement in the pluralistic agricultural extension system alongside the public sector could be beneficial to the people of Uganda, the management of the complex partnership created raises a lot of concerns. One problem created by the decentralization is the managerial confusion and inefficiencies that result from extension staff having two masters in the field, the NGO and the local government; this confusion could cause a conflict of interest. The misappropriation of funds by local authorities and reduced staff satisfaction, stemming from lack of job promotions, resentment from being supervised by local councils that are not technical in the field, perceived unrealistic expectations from political supervisors, and isolation from headquarters are many other issues that complicate the decentralization agenda in the field (Bashaasha et al. 2011).
Despite the above pitfalls, extension programs are leading or adapting to decentralization reforms in Uganda like in many other countries around the world. Local and regional governments are playing an increasing role relative to national governments in performing the public functions for a pluralistic system. The number of farmers receiving extension services as a result of the reforms has increased with many service providers and more available resources. The deployment of human, capital and financial resources by the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries underscores its commitment to the successful implementation of the pluralistic agricultural extension system that is viewed as the catalyst for increase agricultural production and productivity and the determination to reduce food shortages and ensure food self-sufficiency for its population.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Agriculture and Extension
A well-developed ICT infrastructure could lead to a more rapid rollout of ICTs and ensure higher growth of the sector. In Uganda, while the growth in service provision and the ICT sector has been striking in recent years, there is still some way to go. Certain levels of basic infrastructure are generally required for the direct benefits of the information society to be realized (UNCST, 2002). The development of networks and use of low-cost ICTs enhance timely access to accurate and reliable information. Many agricultural extension practitioners recognize that an information technology revolution is unfolding, with tremendous and largely unrealized potential for rural development, even for poorer farmers. Information and communication technologies (e-mail, internet, phone, radio, TV, blogs, print) are tools that are underutilized in extension strategies. Nodumo Dhlamini (2010) reported that short message systems (SMS), interactive voice response, radio programs, closed user groups and blogs for sharing content were ICT tools applied and tested with farmers in the South Western Uganda to improve communication with rural farming communities.
With regarding to computer use and access to internet services, a 2009 World Bank Statistics report indicated that almost one out of ten people (9.8%) in Uganda had access to a computer and has used internet services. This is significant especially when compare to countries like Ghana (5.4%) and Rwanda (4.5%). The same World Bank report indicated that 28.7 percent of the population of Uganda own and operate a mobile phone compare to 63.4 percent in Ghana. With mobile phones presently used for other services such as banking (paying bills, sending money, paying school fees), the technology could play a key role in extension services and information delivery. The use of computers and access to internet services is increasing and agricultural extension system is using these technologies to reach farmers. ICTs can complement other extension and knowledge services, but there is a critical need to know how farmers currently access information. The government of Uganda needs to design and support policy environments and programs that use the right mix of media available for agricultural extension service delivery.
Training for Extension Professionals
Shortages of qualified and experienced staff to deliver agricultural extension services and a lack of training opportunities to develop professional and technical expertise in many Sub-Saharan African countries including Uganda have been highlighted (De Muro et al. 1998). These problems in the contest of Uganda are justified by the low pay and salary payment delays that constrain staff recruitment and retention in the Local Governments. Formal training for agricultural extension professionals is usually provided by universities and colleges. In Uganda, Makerere University, one of the oldest and prestigious Universities in Africa provides degree training in agricultural sciences. The school of Agricultural Sciences within the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences comprises three departments including the Department of Extension and Innovations. This department delivers bachelor degrees in agricultural extension and its strategic focus is to advance agricultural development through training, research and service delivery. The capacity of Makerere University to train enough extension professionals is limited and the insufficient capacity of training institutions to train qualified staff in Uganda, despite the recent growth in private universities, is a real problem for the central government.
With regard to in-service training, the training departments of the Ministries of Agriculture and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) generally organize in-service training programs for extension staff. However, these trainings do not adequately prepare extension staff to deal with complex agricultural problems. Also the Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension education (SAFE) partners with MAAIF and Makerere University to provide mid-career training to extension staff who currently works with MAAIF and NGOs engaged in agricultural and rural development.
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Persons responsible for this summary: Andre Mbassa Nnoung, Andrea B. Bohn and Burton Swanson