By Agnes Kirabo
With support from Action Aid Uganda, FRA and officials from Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries set off on the first ever Learning Route on the week of 27th November. The focus of this weeklong trip was to establish the efficiency and effectiveness of the implementation of the Single Spine Agricultural Extension system since its approval by cabinet in 2014. Whereas a year may seem too short to measure efficiency and effectiveness, it is again too long to neglect tracking the implementation and delivery of such a critical service.
The learning route was not only taken by FRA, Action Aid and MAAIF but included members of the Non-State Actors Working Group on Agricultural Extension (UNFFE, CSBAG, Jenga Africa and the media). The route that covered districts of Amuria, Ngora, Kumi, Kaberamaido, Pader, Nwoya, Amuru, Apach, Gulu Namutumba, Kapchorwa, Katakwi and Soroti provided a platform for engagement between farmers, Local Government officials and other stakeholders with officials from MAAIF regarding the Single Spine. The route further gave an opportunity to the learners to have interactions with selected farmers to have the practical experience of agricultural extension service delivery.
Among the key observations made was that the conceptual description of the Single Spine is far different from the structural layout approved by Government. The former is more inclusive, interactive and recognizes the contribution of various stakeholders to the provision and delivery of agricultural extension. The approved structure by cabinet on the other hand represents the traditional system of public provision and delivery of extension with an additional elaboration of the newly established Directorate at national level.
The contradicting circulars regarding the recruitment of extension workers issued to local government during the year brought to the learners’ attention the many gaps between the theory and reality of the Single Spine approach. Although there was general consensus that all districts received not less than 90 million to undertake recruitment, there was no consensus or harmonized approach undertaken among the visited districts. It was further learnt that many districts had not embarked on the recruitment 5 months away to the end of the financial year.
The learners further learnt that although local governments had received money for recruitment, none of these has a wage bill to facilitate the recruited staff to reach out to farmers. This poses a risk of the duplication and replication of the challenges of the public traditional agricultural extension system that was disbanded in 2000 citing challenges of poor outreach, inefficiency and ineffectiveness among others.
Another observation learners made was that farmers look at agricultural extension in a more holistic view to include production, natural resource management, forestry, indigenous knowledge, marketing, primary health care, knowledge and technology transfer; and nutrition. With the absence of marketing, farmers do not have a feel of the value of agricultural extension.
The farm visits too provided a mixture of learning experiences. Although there was considerable visible increase in production and productivity, access to agricultural extension was never cited as a priority contributing factor. The farmers who have had previous experiences and exposure based on interactions and strategic positioning with the previous NAADS appeared to be more progressive, beating the dynamics of production and marketing compared to their counterparts who have not had such opportunities.
Radio and fellow farmers were mentioned in high priority as key sources of agricultural extension followed by NGOs. The confusion between NAADs, Operation Wealth Creation and the Single Spine seem to be growing instead of being addressed. The learners broadly concluded that there is a distinctive disarray between the realities and the structure presented, approved and being implemented.
It was further concluded that the gap between MAAIF, the newly created directorate and local governments needs to be closed in terms of communication, interaction, planning, financing and implementation. Furthermore, the approved structure of the single spine needs further review to make it inclusive and cover the most important aspects of agricultural extension as well as the multiple providers of agricultural extension. More questions regarding the NAADS secretariat and its relationship with the single spine were raised than answered. This was not different from the matters of Operation Wealth Creation.
The single spine agricultural extension system may have taken root following the approval of cabinet, establishment of the directorate and the start of the recruitment of extension workers. However, the root maybe so blunt to touch the base (farmers) where it is needed most or the structure may be too hard to allow its penetration. There is therefor need to address the structural challenges of the system and the infrastructural bottlenecks around the system.