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Sound Education Not Enough for Improved Agriculture

Apart from the need for sound education to spur Africa’s agricultural productivity as argued in Robert Sabiiti’s Sound Education to Boost Africa’s Agriculture, there are additional and very important policy and economic issues to be addressed for African agriculture to boom. These include development of sound marketing structures, funding of agricultural research as well as technology dissemination.

Despite the fact that most African farmers lack adequate market opportunities for their produce, a lot of effort has been put on stimulating production. This has often resulted into misbalancing of economic forces of supply and demand as farmers improve qualitative and quantitative production on their predominantly smallholder farms, just to be disappointed by lack of enough market for the bumper harvest. The following season, less effort is put in production of commodities that previously gave good yields.

By simply availing a good market for agricultural commodity, farmers almost intuitively go into production to meet the demand. One can quote the production of passion fruits in Uganda, which culminated into huge volumes of both hybrid and local purple fruits on the market as a response to a call by the Ministry of Agriculture. Similarly, Bird's Eye chili production was enhanced and grown countrywide with the marketing intervention of SHELL BP, but only to collapse years down the chain after a negative market response.

Recently, the production of vanilla was high on farmers’ rota. Unfortunately, the world market was disrupted by unknown factors causing severe losses to farmers who had borrowed money to invest in the project. On the other hand, maize production in Uganda has become a lucrative business, with maize being referred to as "white gold". The causal market factor has been the increased demand of maize grain from Kenya, Sudan and Zambia farther south. Culturally maize was not a staple food for many Ugandan tribes, but failure of other crops like banana resulted into changes in consumer attitude and demand hence creating a big demand for maize flour. From the foregone, availability of good markets for agricultural produce could be key to adoption of technologies and increased qualitative and quantitative agricultural production. This will be far reaching in empowering smallholder farmers, improving livelihoods and food security.

Research, too, needs a more demand driven funding approach. There is a shift from office or laboratory based research agenda to a more participatory approach that takes care of all stakeholders' needs. However, the process through which research funds are channeled leaves a lot to desire. What is common is to have research proposals submitted by researchers to funding offices where they are vetted and funded. Consequently technologies are generated, but with little involvement of farmers or the industry. Even when on farm research trials are conducted, farmer involvement is minimal. The farmer is often prejudiced. His knowledge ignored, the farmer thinks that on farm experiments belong to the researcher. In this case, farmers will even set up pararell fields and try to compare. In cases where funds are channeled through farmer groups, and their needs are identified as basis for setting up the research agenda, farmers tend to own generated technologies.

Using this intervention, whereby research funds were allocated to fruit exporters to solve factors limiting qualitative and quantitative production of export fruits in Kasese, South West of Uganda, passion fruit production and export was improved by 3000tons per week. There was almost 100% adoption of technologies, and farmers livelihoods were improved.  A similar funding methodology could be applied to technology dissemination activities. The farmer should be given the opportunity to demand for a service. Funds should in turn be availed to the farmer, though not in cash. Service delivery should be paid with the approval of the farmer who should have benefited from disseminated technologies. African states can thus reduce on the loss incurred through pumping money into agriculture research and development with achieving meaningful and sustainable development.

By Dr. Ssekyewa Charles
Director of Research, Uganda Martyrs University

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