columnBy Barbara Ntambirweki Karugonjo
Over the years the government has tried to promote science and technology to spur the development of agriculture however performance of the sector is disappointing. The National Development Plan recognises agriculture as a key sector that will drive and enhance economic growth and socio economic transformation.
According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics the agriculture sector contributes 20% of GDP, accounts for 48% exports and employs over 70% of the working population. Regardless of these statistics, agricultural development in Uganda faces several challenges of which the most cumbersome include; low productivity due to poor agricultural technologies and market linkages, volatile global food prices, undeveloped value chains and low public investment in the sector among others.
Despite the importance of the sector to the national economy combined with the general rhetoric of prioritizing it in the national development agenda, the sector has never received the required 10% of national budget that the government agreed to at Maputo summit in 2009. The lack of sustained agricultural growth and the slow process of diversification in the agriculture sector pose serious threats to poverty reduction efforts. Huge investments in science and technology are therefore required to improve food production and accelerate economic transformation because of the solid multiplier effect of agriculture. We need to place more emphasis on supporting science and technology to address social and economic challenges with regard to performance of the agriculture sector. Research findings demonstrate that public spending on agricultural research has the highest return to labour productivity and poverty reduction.
To increase agricultural productivity, farmers require improved technologies to assist them deal with the challenges brought about by pests and diseases, declining soil fertility, post-harvest losses and drought among others. Consequently to improve the agriculture sector, the government must invest in science and technology by increasing expenditure on agriculture research and development of technology. Despite the above facts, government spending on agriculture research is very low with an average of 18% in the last financial year compared to expenditure provision of other public agricultural goods and services.
Notwithstanding the minimal funding to the sector, there have been some successes in agriculture research. National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) has made progress in generating technologies for improving productivity of crops, forestry, fisheries and livestock although most farmers are not able to access and use technologies mainly due to poor linkages between NARO, public sector, extension workers and farmers. To deal with this challenge, NARO in partnership with NAADS under Agriculture Technology and Agribusiness Advisory Services (ATAAS) project funded by World Bank is attempting to strengthen linkage between NARO and NAADS to ensure that research products from NARO are effectively disseminated and utilized in the NAADS programme. While it's a good initiative it is worrying that agricultural research initiatives such as these are promoted in a project mode, donor funded and often come with restrictions which may affect its long term sustainability.
Looking to the future, Uganda has the potential to become the regions food basket if we invest in agricultural research and innovation to create pathways out of poverty for many smallholder farmers. The government should allocate 10% of the national budget to the agriculture sector as a strategy to achieving millennium development goals of poverty reduction. A comprehensive multi-sector approach should be adopted where technology generation and dissemination are accessed by all players in the innovation system. Before any meaningful technology transfer can take place, concerted efforts in terms of explicit policies and strategies are necessary in the management of research and linkages among agriculture research institutions. These policies and strategies should promote linkages, interactions and work in tandem with public institutions like NARO, universities, private sector, civil society organizations, farmer groups, and local governments play an important role in demand articulation and dissemination of technologies. Research and technology transfer can make a critical contribution in addressing the social and economic challenges regarding the performance of the agriculture sector.
The writer is a Researcher with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE).