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COVID-19 disrupted agricultural extension services, farmer productivity- study

The Country Director for Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA), Dr. Roselline Nyamutale has expressed fears that the COVID-19 global pandemic has significantly impacted the agricultural sector, causing irreparable losses to farmers arising from disruptions on access to agricultural inputs and extension services.

During the 3rd National Agricultural Extension Symposium organized at Hotel Africana last week by Uganda Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (UFAAS), Nyamutale revealed that a rapid response survey conducted by Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) in mid-April to assess impacts of COVID-19 on food systems in Africa, found severe constraints in farmer access to extension services that consequently affected their productivity.

“For example the restrictions on travel and social gathering reduced farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, financial services, farm labour availability as well as output markets. Additionally, the pandemic has disrupted the provision of agricultural extension services, leaving farmers with limited access to capacity building,” Nyamutale said.

She noted that the results of the survey they conducted indicate that COVID-19 related limitations are expected to affect crop production and productivity, which could jeopardize food security in Africa.

Nyamutale argued that in response to COVID-19, there’s now an urgent need to adopt short, medium and long term interventions, employing technological innovations like e-extension platforms, to strengthen resilience of the African food system.

With increasing recognition that strengthening agricultural extension services is key to economic transformation in Uganda, on July 20, the Uganda Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (UFAAS), in partnership with Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) launched the e-registration platform for agricultural extension actors in Uganda. 

Beatrice Luzobe, the CEO of UFAAS told theCooperator that the e-extension platform that is currently being prioritized is aimed at professionalizing the agricultural extension system to guarantee quality assurance in the provision of extension services to farmers.

“There are already standards and guidelines for extension for both public and private extension workers; there is a process for registration and accreditation. That is where we are working on the e-registration for service providers in agricultural extension,” Luzobe said.

Registration of extension workers is also intended to protect vulnerable farmers against substandard inputs and extension services currently offered in the market, through close monitoring and regulation. Luzobe affirms that once actors have been verified, the extension service providers shall be added to their data base. 

She said more than 150 extension workers have been registered, for purposes of launching the e-registration program, and plans are underway to extend it countrywide, in partnership with MAAIF and local government.

Beatrice Byarugaba, the Director of Agriculture Extension Services at MAAIF welcomed the use of e-extension platforms in resolving the limitations undermining farmers’ access to extension services in Uganda. 

She said that the ratio of extension workers to farmers is still wide but government is putting in place policies and encouraging the use of technology to transform and revolutionize the agricultural sector. 

However, Byarugaba called for increased coordination by government and different actors in the sector, in bridging capacity gaps and strengthening the provision of extension services along agricultural value-chain.

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