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New digital tool to empower farmers to access extension services

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Do you want extension services or market information or a loan without meeting anyone face to face? For the farmers in northern Uganda and West Nile, a new digital tool is going to empower farmers to access extension services and market information through the mobile telephones. 

“This is going to be the answer to the challenges we face as farmers,” said David Oceng, a farmer in Kitgum. “We can also negotiate better prices.”

He added, “We will get to know the best inputs we need for growing different crops, the best sources of inputs (input dealers) and the prices on the mobile phone.”

Oceng said they have been making attempts to increase the productivity in the farming sector of northern Uganda but the application of ICT is proving to be the best game-changer.

He was speaking recently at the launch of the “inclusive digital innovation in agriculture” at the Uganda Media Center in Kampala. The inclusive digital innovation has been developed by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), in partnership with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and financial technology firms under funding amounting to $15m (sh1.6b). Judith Nabakooba, the Minister for ICT presided over the launching of the digital tool.

Most output from agriculture is from small scale farmers contributing up to 78%. However, smallholder farmers do not have access to extension services and credit services.

“Digitization is going to bridge the extension gap,” said Uhuru Sserubiri, CEO of Cabraltech ltd adding that the digital tool is going to complement the traditional extension services.

He said they were going to profile the farmers, their age gender and that this would be used to establish the information needs of the farmers. They also rely on secondary data of the farmers.

The transformation of agriculture is only possible with building the capacity of the farmers. This is going to be undertaken through basic agricultural practices, marketing and bulking.

The UNCDF Digital Country Lead, Uganda Chris Lukolyo said the five-year project that seeks to ensure digital inclusivity will see farmers equipped with digital skills to enable them access agricultural-related advisory and extension services digitally.

The services include weather patterns, markets, prices and the type of crops to grow on particular soil types.

Lukolyo said that while this information is ordinarily provided by extension workers, Uganda lacks adequate numbers to serve all farmers.

“These are the things that an extension worker can tell a farmer but there are not enough extension workers for all farmers across the country. So we want to leverage digital platforms to extend advisory and other extension services to the rural farmers,” he said.

The programme is being implemented with the support of the Swedish government, through the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency, which is targeting women, youth, refugees and migrants, who are normally underserved when it comes to digital solutions.

Lukolyo noted that they chose Northern Uganda and West Nile as a starting point for the intervention but noted they are open to extending to other regions should there be willing partners to implement a similar project.

The programme will also see farmer partners leverage the digital platform and assess the creditworthiness of farmers to enable them access credit for inputs without having to present collateral (land titles and buildings), which commercial banks always ask for.

Creditworthiness will be assessed using information gathered by Hamwe East Africa, a fintech that uses digital solutions to transform Uganda’s agriculture and enhance production and productivity.

The Hamwe East Africa chief executive officer, Allan Asiimwe said the fintech which specialises in the digitisation of agricultural value chains will use its M-Farmer Application (App), to extend the benefits of technology to the agricultural value chains. The value chains include farmers, traders, processors and consumers to enable them build better records, increase the efficiency of operations and make informed decisions.

Source: New Vision

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Access to land, capital hampering youth’s involvement in agri-business

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Stakeholder engagement with governments to support the youths should be a component of every programme

Young people in sub-Saharan Africa have keen interest in agriculture especially with the use of technology but are hampered with numerous challenges including limited access to land, skills set, sustainable financing and access to markets, a new report has revealed.

A new study carried out by Heifer International in 21 African countries titled ‘The Future of Africa’s Agriculture – An Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology,’ reveals that 10 out of 11 countries, with the exception of Tanzania agreed that the most important support required is funding.

However, more training and mentorship were seen as more important than funding in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The survey also reveals that whereas more youths in Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe stressed the need for support in the area of access to markets, their counterparts in Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana prioritized the need for support in agri-technologies. Access to land was the major concern for the youth in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The organisations working in the sector suggested that the best way to engage youths in agriculture is through technological innovation (39%), government support for young farmers (32%) and inclusion of youths in agriculture policy formulation (21%).

“Most youths in Africa also do not have access to land for agriculture.  59% of youths surveyed do not have access or own land. Land ownership amongst young people is lowest in Ghana, Zambia, Senegal and Rwanda,” the survey notes. “Youths in Malawi seem to have access to land, with only 14% having no access, the lowest among countries surveyed.”

Technology adoption

Overall, technology adoption in Africa too remains low, with Ghana, Senegal and Zambia having the lowest agri-tech adoption rate.  Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria have the highest technological adoption rates, according to the survey that featured 30,000 youths, stakeholders in innovations and small holder farmers.

William Matovu, a director at Heifer International-Uganda said the paradox of Africa’s economic development is that the continent’s urban and rural populations who produce most of the food is mostly comprised of smallholder farmers practicing subsistence farming while living in extreme poverty.

“This scenario scares away the continent’s youth from careers in agriculture, yet ordinarily Africa’s youth should be replacing the aging farming population but this generational shift is not happening fast and well enough to secure Africa’s food security goals,” he said.

He reckoned that Africa’s youths disapproving attitude towards agriculture is mainly a result of lack of funding which is the biggest barrier towards their interest in the sector.

Africa’s agricultural sector accounts for nearly 30% of the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa and employs 54% of the work force, but it is still underdeveloped.

Mondo Kyateeka, the Commissioner for Youth and Child Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development said unfortunately, young people are selling off the only available land to migrate to cities or go abroad for low-skills jobs

He said there are also feelings that older people are not willing to relinquish the land they can no longer use, to the younger persons to use it.

He, however, said the government is seeking ways of curbing the sale of agricultural land, saying the position is that agricultural land should remain for that purpose.

Key recommendations

As a result, the survey recommends a review of existing programmes that targets smallholder farmers and that youths must be conducted to determine if the current strategies support the African farmer with the use of technology.

“Innovation must be viewed within the context of the current realities,’ the survey notes. Beyond a smart App, the survey says providing linkages to local and regional markets will go a long way in improving the financial bottom-line of every farmer. The survey says digital literacy must also be a key consideration.

The survey says while smallholder farmers in rural areas do not have access to smart phones or Internet access, a basic phone is a good starting point in introducing the use of technology, through weekly SMS on prevailing market prices and best input bargains.

Furthermore, youths with a keen interest in agri-tech must work collaboratively with smallholder farmers to get a better understanding of their challenges and how to provide sustainable and affordable solutions.

“There is also need to capture data to provide evidence-based results on the immediate benefit and long-term impact of the use of technology by smallholder farmers,” the survey notes, adding that stakeholder engagement with the governments to provide access to land, tax waivers and fiscal policies that deliberately support youths in the sector should be a component of every programme.

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Butaleja farmers oppose govt ban on growing rice

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Farmers in rice gardens in Hisega Village, Butaleja Town Council, Butaleja District last week.

Farmers in Butaleja District have opposed the government’s decision of banning the growing of rice and other crops in wetlands across the country, saying they should have been consulted.
The farmers say the decision will affect their livelihoods and push them further into poverty.
Last week, the government banned the growing of rice and other crops in wetlands.

In a resolution passed by Cabinetand communicated by the Minister of State for Water and Environment, Ms Beatrice Anywar, the government said the move will restore the environment that has been degraded by farming activities.
Ms Anywar said Uganda’s wetland coverage has dropped from 17.5 per cent in the early 1990s to 8.5 per cent, while forest coverage has dropped from 24 per cent to 12.4 per cent.

Mr David Mulabi, a rice farmer and former contestant for Bunyole East MP,  last week said the decision is inhuman and one of the examples of the many discriminative and recklessly managed policy processes.
“The government has been giving out forests to foreigners to build industries. They have not said anything about urban encroachment on wetlands for home construction. Why target the poor farmers who have nowhere to go and have been farming in  these wetlands for over 50 years,”Mr Mulabi wondered.

He such a policy with a huge potential for social impact should have gone through long studies and consultations before its implemented.
Mr Mulabi said this could be another  government ploy to marginalise the rice farmers in the district, which is about 40 per cent covered by water bodies and wetlands.
“They j simply need to drop the whole thing and start afresh with proper policy consultation with a view of not evicting farmers but to get sustainable and practical solutions,” he said.

Mr Mulabi also accused government for giving a tax waiver to traders to import rice, something he said has led to price drop and has affected the farmers’ income.
“Instead of giving such money to our farmers to improve output, they supported foreign farmers at the expense of Ugandan farmers,” he said.
Ms Sarah Nagawa, another rice farmer, said the decision should be shelved, saying they earn their livelihoods from wetlands.

“These wetlands have paid for my children’s school fees including myself.They should think of better ways instead of taking decisions without consulting us,” he said.
Mr Abdu Walubya, a resident, said the district has  been depending on wetlands for farming.
“Almost 70 per cent of the homesteads of the population generate their income through use of these wetlands.Others live and sleep in wetlands. How will the government handle those who sleep and stay in wetlands, ”Mr Walubya said.
The district chairperson, Mr Micheal Higenyi Bory, said if the government takes over  wetlands without a clear plan, it will  lead to bloodshed.

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Raw deal for Sebei as Irish potato prices drop

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Farmers in Sebei Sub-region are counting losses following a drastic drop in the prices of Irish potatoes

Farmers in Sebei Sub-region are counting losses following a drastic drop in the prices of Irish potatoes.
A bag of Irish at a farm gate costs about Shs30,000 from Shs70,000 and a kilogramme goes for Shs300 from Shs700.
Farmers attribute the drop in prices to the Covid-19 disruptions, poor road network and the surplus harvest of Irish in neighbouring Kenya, which has now ended in the Uganda market.

In an interview with Daily Monitor at the weekend, the farmers said they were expecting to make fortunes out of the bumper harvest.
They have asked the government to start up a processing plant so that they can add value to the irish.
Mr Isaac Sande, a farmer in Chemonge Village, Kapchesombe, East Division in Kapchorwa District, said they were giving away their produce to middlemen.

“We are just dumping our produce because we don’t have any other alternative. We are making losses and yet we had anticipated better prices,” he said.
Mr Sande said this was the worst price they had experienced in a decade.
“I had invested about Shs3 million as part of a loan from a savings group, expecting to get Shs7 million, but this is now impossible,” he said.
Mr Satya Malewa, the vice chairperson of Kwoti Kapenguria Farmers Group, attributed the low prices to an influx of Irish from Kenya.

“Buyers would easily move here for potatoes, but it is now hard because of hiked transport costs,” he said, adding: “The government should provide us with soft loans.”
Mr Joshua Cherotich,a farmer in Kamakunga, Kapchesombe Sub-county, Kapchorwa District, said he is stuck with about 2 tonnes of irish.
“I invested a lot of money, but the middlemen are giving us peanuts. But by all means, I will give it away because it will rot,” he said.
Mr Joseph Mangusho, a resident of Benet Sub-County in Kween District, said the government should improve the transport network.
“We also don’t have warehouses from where we can store our Irish,” he said.

Production capacity
Ms Susan Chemutai, the secretary for production of Kapchorwa District, said the district produces between 400 and 500 tonnes of Irish potatoes per season.
Ms Everlyne Kubarika, the chairperson of Kapchorwa District, said Sebei Sub-region produces a lot of Irish, which if processed can lift the farmers out of poverty.
Mr William Chemonges, the MP for Kween County,  who also seats in the Parliamentary Committee of Science, Technology and Innovation, said they made a presentation to the line minister (on value addition for Irish) who will brief them next month.

“Our farmers face a major challenge of prices. We need a processing plant and machines that can transform the raw Irish into other products in powder form. The Irish should also be preserved for two to three years,’’ he said.

Original Source: Daily monitor.co.ug

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