GULU – Agricultural extension workers in northern Uganda have a new tack for spurring farmers’ productivity, they have formed a coalition to improve access to extension services and hone farmers’ skills and knowledge in agriculture best practices.
The coalition called; Northern Uganda Agricultural Extension Platform aims to take quality extension services closer to farmers.
At least 31 districts in Lango, Acholi and West Nile regions and institutions like Gulu University, Muni University Uganda and Martyrs University are now members of the coalition.
Thomas Okello, the Lira District production officer and chairman of the coalition, said in a recent interview that the huge number of subsistence farmers in the country must be scaled back.
While 68 percent of famers in the country are subsistence farmers, Okello said, over 90 percent are concentrated in the northern region.
“We can reduce subsistence farming to 30 percent if farmers are brought together in cooperatives with quality extension services,” Okello explained.
He noted however, that the wide gaps in the provision of extension services have affected productivity and livelihoods of poor farmers.
Ruth Mugisha, the regional coordinator of Uganda Forum for Agricultural Advisory, said most farmers still do not know how to cope with climate change to realize good yields. The risks, she said, can be mitigated by providing extension services to farmers.
“We have different agrological zones but most famers still lack knowledge on enterprise selection of particular crops to grow, which should be our primary focus in the next five years,” Mugisha said.
Jimmy Andio, the program manager of Adraa Agriculture College, said the northern region can potentially develop if farmers get the skills and knowledge in farming best practices.
Albert Unzi, the agricultural officer for Obongi District, however, noted that the district has only five extension workers, which diminishes extension services in the district.
Walter Odong, a lecturer at Gulu University in the Faculty of Agriculture, said research is needed into factors affecting productivity in the country.
He also urged the government to recruit more extension workers in the country.
Comfort Yikiru, the program manager of Rural Initiative for Community Empowerment, a farmers led organization in the West Nile Region, said the disconnect between farmers and extension workers is hurting the long term vision of the country’s sustainable development goal.
The government introduced reform in the agricultural extension services six years ago through a single spine extension system to enhance agricultural production, value addition and food security.
However, the lack of extension workers and inadequate funding of the agricultural sector are frustrating the efforts.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries approved a ceiling of 5,000 extension workers but only 3,854 were recruited by 2019.
At least one extension worker is currently handling 1,800 farmers with the uptake of optimal utilization of technologies in the country remaining as low as 28% with 68% of the households still trapped in subsistence farming.
The sector has equally experienced a financing gap of Shs 483.4 billion from 2015 to 2020 financial years while only 1,061 motorcycles of the planned 4,000 for extension workers were procured.
However, a study conducted by Caritas Uganda in 2019 in the five districts of Nebbi, Pakwach, Oyam, Lira and Dokolo found that 70% of farmers in the areas are concentrating on subsistence farming.
Romeo Okot, a local farmer in Lalogi Sub County in Omoro District, said he has battled with price fluctuations and drastic weather for the last five years.
“We were told that a kilogram of cotton sold at Shs 3,000 but we ended up selling at Shs 1,300 but the worst I suffered last year was the heavy rain that destroyed two hectares of my cotton,” Okot said.
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