Government to step-up extension support for farmers

Government has committed to step up the reach and diversity of extension services available to smallholder farmers and cooperatives, in a bid to promote agricultural mechanization and increase the productivity of the Agricultural sector.

Presiding over the 9th Joint Agricultural Sector Annual Review (JASAR) held at Speke Resort Munyonyo on Thursday, Vincent Ssempijja, the Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries(MAAIF) noted that extension services were critical to government’s plan to transform the 68% largely subsistence households in the country into commercial production, as part of the governments agro-industrialization strategy.

Currently, Ssempijja said, MAAIF, with support from development partners like the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the United States Agency for International Development(USAID) and the Kingdom of Netherlands, are promoting four different models of service delivery to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the extension services.

“The models include the farmer field schools, village agent model, nucleus farmer model, and the four-acre model,” he said, affirming that “the models have been developed to support commercialization of smallholder farmers and are being integrated in the extension services system.”

Currently, the ratio of extension workers to farmers is 1:1800, way above the internationally recommended 1:500. But Ssempijja argued that there has been a significant improvement over the last two years, noting that in 2015/16, the ratio of extension worker: farmer stood at a staggering 1:5000.

“Following the adoption of the Single Spine Extension System, Government embarked on a recruitment drive of Agricultural Extension Staff, which has seen 3,872 extension workers recruited over the last two years,” he said.

Ssempijja said that with support from International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), MAAIF has been able to procure and facilitate the extension staff with 113 Double Cabin vehicles and 1,034 motorcycles, to increase their efficiency and mobility.

Despite the inroads made, the ministry was still 1,128 extension staff-short of the targeted 5000 for the 2018/19 financial year, and way below the required 12,000 extension workers by local governments nationally in the medium term.

Ssempijja blamed the shortfall on what he called an “insufficient resource envelope,” noting that MAAIF submitted a budget of Shs.50bn for extension staff wages and Shs.56bn for non-wage expenses to the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in the last financial year, which was not honored.

“More resources are required to step up recruitment and procure more transport equipment for extension workers,” he said, before adding: “More money is needed to increase the operational funds from the current Shs.39.6 billion and to support continuous capacity building of the workers.”

Towards agriculture mechanization, the ministry revealed that it had procured 284 tractors and two sets of earthmoving equipment, which would be hired out to farmers and cooperatives at subsidized costs. Ssempijja said that MAAIF would procure and distribute 162 additional tractors 200 lower level mechanization equipment like ox-plows, and 130 solar water pumping systems. “These efforts will unlock systemic constraints that affect the livelihood of smallholder farmers,” he emphasized.

Re-echoing the minister’s remarks, MAAIF Permanent Secretary Pius Wakabi Kasajja however urged farmers to register and work in organized groups like cooperatives, arguing that it would be easier and cheaper that way for them to access the vast range of agricultural services on offer, from credit to agricultural Insurance and agro-inputs.

“This (farmer cooperatives) will also help us link them to agro-processing facilities being coordinated by the extension service network in the country,” Wakabi Argued.

The post Government to step-up extension support for farmers appeared first on The Cooperator News.

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