Kampala, Uganda: Researchers and agricultural scientists have called for increased investment in agricultural research, noting that it holds the key to unlocking Uganda’s agricultural potential.
Speaking at a policy dialogue jointly organized by the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and The Uganda We Want Policy think tank at NARO’s crop and livestock research center in Namulonge on Friday, Dr. Yona Baguma, NARO’s Deputy Director-General for Research argued that research offers Uganda the surest way to transition its Agriculture sector from subsistence to modern commercial farming. “We should be able to influence policy from an evidence-based position,” he said.
Baguma also called for a coordinated multi-sectoral approach to agricultural transformation, noting that structural investment along the entire agricultural value chain is critical to linking production to markets.
Echoing Dr. Baguma, Economist Fred Muhumuza argued that the transformation of the agriculture sector must be deliberate. “Subsistence farming economically speaking, is a viable way of surviving in harsh conditions. Most people are locked in there (subsistence farming) as a self-preservation strategy. To begin the transformation, you must give these guys assurance. You must play a deliberate strategy to invest in these people so they can get out of subsistence farming.”
At least 80% of Uganda’s labor force remains employed in agriculture, with 69% still trapped in subsistence farming, according to the latest figures from the Uganda National Bureau Of Standards. Some of the issues that continue to affect productivity include poor seed varieties, unpredictable weather patterns, pests and diseases, and lack of valuable research information.
Muhumuza says that NARO has been influential in changing the sector’s fortunes and that it’s capable of doing more if supported. “We did a survey and found out that research from NARO has contributed between 25-40% of total economic development of Uganda,” he said. He, however, noted that there’s still a big challenge in communication between NARO and farmers, with few farmers able to access new improved and drought-resistant varieties and other extension services.
Vision Group CEO and proprietor of Rugyeyo farm Robert Kabushenga advised fellow farmers and cooperatives dealing in agriculture to consult and spend time with Scientists before doing any investments, arguing that it would save them a lot of regrets. “I made my mistakes. But if anyone wants to go into farming, please talk to the Scientists. They will save you from mistakes. I may be able to take the pain of loss, but other people may not,” he counseled.
Dr. Baguma assured participants that NARO is committed to carrying out its research mandate to support farmers and promote food security through innovation, but rued what he called insufficient financing from the government.
He revealed that NARO received Shs.79.6 billion from the government for the financial year 2019/2020, way short of the Shs.300 billion they had requested for, to be able to operate at optimal level.
“For research to serve the current and future generation, there is a need for sustainable research capacity in terms of highly skilled people, competitive and highly equipped facilities, sustainable and adequate funding and land. Because agricultural research is made on land,” he said.