While we celebrate the arrival of the rains for our first cropping season 2015, we are also apprehensive of a major change in our agricultural system – the allocation to the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) the role of logistical distribution of planting material; a role which has been removed from trained agricultural extension workers. Apparently, the logic is that the UPDF will only distribute the planting material and then the agricultural extension service providers will either precede or follow up with agricultural advisory services.
Sadly, the negative impact of using the army – UPDF – to logistically distribute seeds is coming fast and furious. “Ngora Town council is stranded with 900 kilograms of maize and 90 kilograms of beans meant for seed inputs to farmers” according to the Ngora Town Clerk as quoted on social media. Apparently, the ‘beneficiary’ farmers were scared to pick up the seeds for fear of the consequences – the wrath of the army – if the seeds did not germinate.
There is similar apprehension in other parts of Uganda as well. Dr. Taulya Godfrey (PhD), a Research Fellow at IITA, during his field visits to Rakai and Isingiro in 2015 found that farmers there prefer to work with civilian extension service providers as opposed to receiving planting materials through the army. Dr. Tulya found that the farmers in Rakai and Isingiro were apprehensive of logistical distribution of planting material by the military – including ex-combatants – because during the previous cropping season the seeds that the ex-combatants delivered to them did not germinate; a possible explanation being that the seeds were delivered late into the season.
Interestingly, during this current cropping season, as is the case in Ngora Town Council, the army has apparently delivered seed in time but the rains have delayed. Since the majority of Ugandan farmers rely on rain fed agriculture, the inability of the army to time the rains, according to Dr. Tulya, clearly shows their incompetence to replace trained agronomists as agricultural extension workers. Dr. Tulya further asserts that the ex-combatants and/or the army in general have no clue about how to manage plant and animal diseases. His assertion is on the basis of findings of his research among farmers – several farmers complained about losing the goats the ex-combatants delivered to them; apparently the requisite advice was not forthcoming from the ex-combatants.
Sadly, the status quo remains confusing – the general public is not yet clear on the role of the army as logistical distributors of seed and not providers of agricultural advisory services; but rather overseers of the providers of agricultural services. This de-facto means that a farmer is expected to receive planting material from the army and then source agricultural advice from a civilian extension service provider who is supervised by the army. Dr. Tulya’s findings also indicate a general feeling among farmers and extension service providers of the proverbial salt being added into the wound – the preferential treatment that the army is getting, apparently for the same job, the ex-combatants are to receive double cabin pickups while the retrenched extension workers had to make do with motorcycles.
What happens when the army delivers the wrong seed for the soils and climates in a particular geography? Considering Uganda’s past history with soldiers/the army, can we really expect a civilian extension worker to objectively critic, without fear or favour, the seed delivered by ex-combatants? Matters are made particularly worse by the unsystematic manner that extension service provision is traditionally done in Uganda. According to Dr. Tulya “the official extension worker goes to the farmer with a given set of advice (e.g. choice of crop mixtures/rotations, use of improved seed, crop protection inputs and proper soil fertility management). Then a certain non-governmental organisation (NGO) extension worker goes to the same farmers with the direct opposite. These contradicting positions not only confuse the farmers, but discourage well-meaning government extension workers, who are castigated by farmers basing on comparison with what they receive from the NGO world.”
There is much more to ensuring crop germination and animal production beyond seed distribution. For even though the seed is delivered on time and farmers do not receive the necessary advice on time and or instead receive conflicting messaging from service providers, the result will inevitably be poor agricultural production. The big question remains, on whose advice was it decided that we should institute a system that has seemingly made matters worse? Unfortunately, the answer to that question will likely take forever to come and so, as in the case with Ngora Town Council, the farmers will likely choose to avoid receiving seed from the army.