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A Case For Agricultural Centres Of Excellence (ACES) For Uganda


ACES

Over 80 percent of Ugandans live in rural areas and are engaged in farming. Uganda’s rural economy is in fact characterised by communities trading in agricultural produce, especially food items. In essence, seemingly, every farmer in Uganda is a business person.

CPAR Uganda is indeed persuaded that in order for active poor rural farmers to improve their standards of living they have to invest in farming as a business to make money that they can utilise to purchase their basic needs (food, clothes, clean water, housing, etc.) and in order to purchase their genuine needs (school fees, medical bills, etc.) Working with thousands of active poor rural farmers in the greater northern Uganda, it is CPAR Uganda’s experience that rural farmers have significant access to farming factors of production, which if well utilised have the potential to catapult them out of poverty.

In a national survey conducted in 2010, the majority, 75 percent, of Ugandans responded that they have access to land. The pre-dominant land tenure system that is prevalent in greater northern Uganda (CPAR Uganda’s area of operation) is customary tenure, which does not allow for unconditional individual ownership of land, but provides for individual access to land in accordance with community authority. Seemingly, therefore, Ugandan farmers have access to land for growing food for their own consumption and for sale. A few of the farmers that CPAR Uganda targets fit within the category of ‘skilled’ labour in the sense of those who have attained formal academic qualifications at a tertiary level (diploma, degree, etc.). The majority fall under the category ‘unskilled’ labour. They are themselves farmers whose own labour is abundant for their own farm work. In addition, through participation as members of self-help development groups they can leverage social capital to access additional labour in form of in-kind help from their fellow farmers/members of groups, especially during peak labour demand times.

There are two major methods in which farmers in Uganda access farm inputs (seeds, fertilizers, etc.) for food crop production. The first is through endogenous acquisition, which is probably universal to all the farmers that CPAR Uganda works with. Using seeds as an example, farmers save seed from the previous harvest and/or access it through in-kind exchanges of goods and services among members of a particular community (including kin and non-kin). The second method through which rural farmers access farm inputs is through exogenous supply from outside of their community – for free from government and other development agencies; and through buying from agribusiness dealers. However, one of the biggest problems in northern Uganda is that agro-input suppliers are few and far between largely because there has been such a long history of relief handouts to the extent that farmers will miss a season waiting for “free seed” rather than invest in buying better quality seed from an input dealer.

The farm implements predominantly used by the farmers whom CPAR Uganda targets to work with are the handheld hoe, machetes and to a lesser extent the ox-plough. These farm implements are generally suitable for small scale production, which the majority of Ugandan farmers are engaged in. The conditions for large scale farming – involving such machinery as tractors are not generally present in most of rural Uganda. The primary method through which farmers acquire farm implements for food production is through exogenous supply from outside of the community – for free from government and other development agencies; and through buying from agribusiness dealers. Except for the ox-plough, the farm implements that are predominantly used by the targeted farmers are affordable – costing less than 15 thousand shillings per unit. There are ox-ploughs in communities, many of which need simple repair. Use of ox-ploughs can significantly increase the farmers’ ability to open land on a timely basis and to reduce labour constraints at critical periods of the year.  Therefore, provision of land opening services on a fee for services basis is very viable, and a farmer who is able to save up cash or get a loan will often use the resources to expand the acreage under cultivation by hiring land opening services.

As noted earlier, the majority of farmers whom CPAR Uganda targets to work with are categorised ‘unskilled’ labour. This implies that their current skills across the food production value chain could do with enhancing. Particularly, in fully acquainting themselves with and appreciating indigenous knowledge systems within; of which knowledge systems some may be disappearing. In addition, there is a need for farmers to acquire ‘new’ knowledge – so-called ‘best practice’ that has proven to work elsewhere and may be useful in their setting as well. CPAR Uganda strategizes to work towards positively changing Ugandans’ attitudes so that Ugandans can increasingly perceive farming as a business, as a major and a viable way through which to end poverty. CPAR Uganda, thusly, is strategically working towards establishing agricultural centres of excellence (ACEs) at its properties in Oyam and in Pader Districts in Northern Uganda. CPAR Uganda’s ACEs align with its mission to ensure that households in rural Uganda ably meet the basic needs of their members through enhanced livelihoods; access to health care, clean water, sufficient and nutritious food.

Once fully established, through its ACEs, CPAR Uganda will provide farmers with an opportunity to enhance their knowledge in such way that farmers become consciously aware of their land use rights; are motivated to appreciate the inherent value of land as a livelihoods asset and will choose to invest time and effort in maintaining land fertility and productivity. The successful clients of the ACES are consciously awaken to see the untapped potential that is inherent in their labour and will have acquired an appreciation of the value of their labour as an asset, which they should put to use for more viable activity. They will be those who appreciate the value of forming labour exchange groups that will help them to meet peak labour demands during critical periods in the production cycle and to practice more equitable gender balance in labour allocation. They will be those who appreciate the value of the need to strengthen their endogenous input acquisition systems and to modifying them into community business initiatives that supply farm inputs.

The clients of CPAR Uganda ACEs will learn of and adopt improved varieties available from research that can significantly improve productivity and which can multiply at the farmer level.  They will learn of hybrid varieties that require careful management of breeding, but which can significantly increase yield, food security and income of farmers; and be able to distinguish them from improved varieties, and to make intelligent choices if they choose to adopt their utilisation. They will be motivated to adopt the culture of self-reliance; shed dependency thinking – waiting for free farm inputs and implements – and be able to buy for themselves farm inputs and implements and to hire land opening services. They will learn to mobilize and manage their own resources, and to make intelligent decisions on exactly how they want to invest to respond to household food security needs and available market demand. They will practise bulk purchasing of implements and inputs through participation in consumer unions that will ensure that they can acquire these items at fair prices with a bulk purchase discount. They will ‘graduate’ into becoming the agribusiness dealers in their communities – setting up local businesses or becoming sales agents for larger input dealers who can sell to them on wholesale. And they will engage in generating capital for investment through participation in savings and loan schemes, for example.

CPAR Uganda’s execution strategy will be through participatory learning approaches. CPAR Uganda will facilitate the sharing of knowledge and skills amongst its target group and between its target group and skilled personnel. At its ACEs it will provide opportunities for rural farmers to participate in farming learning activities – covering crop agronomy; animal production; water conservation practices, such as rain water harvesting, mulching, contours, ridges, etc; and environmental conservation practices, such as tree planting and organic production. CPAR Uganda’s ACEs will be established with demonstration and trial plots so that farmers can learn from them and therefore minimize the risk of the farmers testing new alternatives for the purpose of making informed decisions in the future. The ACEs will be multiplication centres which will stimulate the process of farmer to farmer seed multiplication of improved varieties. As part of its execution strategy, CPAR Uganda will facilitate processes that will lead to consciously awakened farmers with sharpened analytical skills; possessing practical knowledge and skills on how to promote their own self-reliant development; and are endowed with a deeper understanding of poverty, in particular the kind that results from one’s own actions. It will equip farmers with skills that will enable them to engage in viable enterprise selection – to carryout viability and feasibility analysis before engaging in any enterprise. The graduates of CPAR Uganda ACEs will be farmers with financial literacy – financial management skills, bookkeeping skills, ability to generate, interpret and use financial reports for profitable decision making.

Using products that have been implemented in Uganda and have yielded positive results, CPAR Uganda will conduct training of model farmers (animators) to function as local consultants for the purpose of continuity in providing extension services within their respective communities for the longer term. One such package that CPAR Uganda has in mind is the training of change agents as was developed by Stan Burkey – details can be got from his book: “People First – A Guide to Self-Reliant Participatory Development Methodologies”, published by Zed Books http://www.amazon.com/People-First-Self-Reliant-Participatory-Development/dp/1856490823. A good example of the success of Burkey’s programme is a farmer association, Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Micro Finance Limited http://www.bukonzocoop.com that was founded by a farmer, Paineto Baluku, who after undergoing Burkey’s change agent training programme, went back home to work voluntarily with his community – initially with a self-help development group of 10 poor rural farmers and growing it into a genuine and multifaceted cooperative that is directly exporting coffee to Japan, United Kingdom and United States of America.

Adapting Burkey’s work, the current CPAR Uganda Managing Director, Norah Owaraga, developed nine highly user friendly note books that were used for training extension staff and leaders of farmer groups that the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) was working with in Liberia; achieving impressive results http://drc.dk/news/news/artikel/danish-refugee-council-helps-liberians-sow-the-seeds-of-self-reliance/. The nine note books each covers a topic as follows: understanding poverty; development methodologies; gender issues; conscious-awakening and the change agent; working with self-help development groups; communication and facilitation; savings and credit schemes for self-help development groups; income generation; and financial management for self-help development groups. These note books can easily be modified for use in Uganda and can be improved upon by integrating additional topics from other relevant successful training materials, such as the AT Uganda farming as a business manual.

CPAR Uganda appreciates that many farmers in the greater Northern Uganda have spent a greater part, as many as 22 years, of their lives living in ‘abnormal’ settings – internally displaced peoples (IDPs) camps; occasioned by manmade and natural disasters. While living as IDPs they survived on handouts. The end of the insurgency in Northern Uganda has forced the peoples of Northern Uganda to live in ‘normal’ settings in accord with the cultures of the Nilotics peoples of Uganda. Specifically, they are now expected to fend for themselves, mostly through farming.  CPAR Uganda’s  ACEs are therefore of great need and once established will be instrumental in enhancing the standards of living of small scale rural farmers by facilitating them through processes that will enhance their food production, food productivity, business and financial literacy.  The key outputs therefore that CPAR Uganda is working towards under this intervention are: functional ACEs in place; farmer training guides and materials (notebooks, manuals, etc.) produced and in used; training courses successfully conducted; farmers trained; produce derived from the ACEs; and relevant services offered by the ACEs. Thus, contributing to CPAR Uganda’s vision to see Ugandan rural men, women and children lead healthy and dignified lives, during which their rights are respected and their basic needs are met.

 

This strategic concept was authored on behalf of CPAR Uganda, by Norah Owaraga, its Managing Director. CPAR Uganda is seeking mutually beneficial partnerships which will allow it to implement this concept. For exploration and referrals please email us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more on CPAR Uganda please visit our website www.cparuganda.com and our webpage www.facebook.com/cparuganda.com and our blog www.cparuganda.wordpress.com