The article seeks to underscore the dismal performance of agriculture in Uganda despite the sector having the critical potential to leverage and power the development process of the country today. This notion is backed by the fact that during the 1950s up to the early 1970s, Uganda’s socio-economic landscape was a shining model of development within East Africa particular and Africa as a whole.
Apart from the introduction therefore, the other aspects to be covered herein include, background, Situation Analysis of Agriculture and Rural Development in Uganda, Prospects for ICT-led Interventions to boost Agriculture in Contemporary Uganda and in the Southern Societies and, recommendations. Hopefully, the details that will come out about these aspects will provide a clear direction as to how best to harness ICT applications so as to transform the agricultural sector and the hence, leap-frog Uganda’s entire development process from its current “trend of survival” to that of sustainable prosperity
As a matter of fact in the current millennium, ICT-led science, Technology and Innovations are increasingly becoming critical drivers of our lives; these factors hold the key to an everlasting source of economic development and important inputs for poverty reduction. Advances in ICT-led scientific and technological knowledge and more so skills, will make significant reduction of poverty and improvement in the quality of life in contemporary societies and posterity.
Now is the time to combine our efforts in promoting the advancement of ICTs, science, technology and innovations as a means of improving living standards in communities, countries, regions, continents and, amongst humanity worldwide. More specifically, time is ripe for embedding ICTs applications in the operation of agro-based activities in Uganda – with the prospects for replicating any lessons of success learnt, in the other southern countries – where agriculture is seen and proven to be the economic mainstay of these societies.
Situation Analysis of Agriculture and Rural Development in Uganda
In the 1960s, Uganda’s economy was at its best whereby in 1965 it realized a GDP of US$500 million thereby equaling that of South Korea. The main economic activity during this period was agriculture, with coffee being the leading crop in terms of income; other key cash-crops included cotton, tea and tobacco. Agriculture was thus supplemented by tourism; that apart, the Ugandan population was self-sufficient in a variety of food crops such as bananas, maize, millet, cassava, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes green vegetables and domestic animals.
Furthermore, these agro-based activities were strengthened by a strong co-operative movement whose network spanned from the village-based co-operative societies and district Co-operative Unions to the national, Uganda Co-operative alliance which served as their umbrella organization. Besides, the mainstream co-operative movement, there was the vibrant, Young Farmers’ Associations network which actively sought to interest and enable young Ugandans to embrace and practice farming. In so doing, many youngsters became and remained active and gainfully productive farmers who provided a succession arrangement that sustained a lucrative and rewarding agricultural base. Apart from being effective in checking rural-urban migration process during then, this base also ensured a balanced rural-urban trend of interdependence within the Ugandan population.
However, during the early 1970s to the late 1980s, agriculture sunk so low mainly due to the political instabilities that prevailed during that era. As a result, speculative trade/transactions succeeded agriculture thereby leading to unsustainable, socio-economic activities such as smuggling, fraud and forgery-based transactions code-named, “Hot Air Deals” and, other forms of speculative transactions.
Unfortunately, speculative transactions continue to linger around within the Ugandan economy in particular and society as a whole – to the disadvantage of agriculture. Efforts are now being made towards uplifting agriculture in Uganda but these are in most cases, frustrated by the rampant diversion of resources thereby resulting into poor infrastructure, insufficient supply of inputs, low quality planting and stocking materials; limited access to markets, inadequate post-harvest support systems, limited provision and utilization of modern farming skills, methods and practices.
All these inadequacies are compounded by the limited availability and supply of agro-based information that could otherwise empower especially the average farmer – youth, women and others – who is largely based in the rural areas, to become self-reliant instead of him/her rushing to the urban areas where he/she becomes a helpless victim of the widespread, socio-economic challenges that result from the unplanned and uncoordinated, town life.
Prospects for ICT led Interventions to Boost Agriculture in Africa
Arising from the above given brief analysis, enhancing and promoting the initiative, “Prospects for ICT-Led Interventions to Boost Agriculture and Rural Development in the Southern Societies” becomes imperative.
SETTING THE GROUND FOR THE INTERVENTIONS
Before highlighting the initiative’s interventions, it is important to put in place, a critical ground which essentially comprises goals and strategies.
To this end, there is the need to target the achievement of hall-marks such as, enhancement of ICT-led agriculture for rural development, awareness raising about the importance of ICT-led agriculture among key decision-makers and farmers, enhancing the capacities of young farmers to become gainful operators through ICT-led applications, accessing the targeted farmers to gainful opportunities through ICT-led networks, advocacy and lobbying; and, periodic monitoring and evaluation of the initiative for sustainability.
ACTUAL INTERVENTIONS TO BOOST AGRICULTURE IN UGANDA THROUGH ICT-LED APPLICATIONS
By actual interventions, the initiative would have to put in place, several tasks that are to be implemented and accomplished. Among others, such tasks include, engaging and involving the targeted farmers in needs assessment of their needs and capacities, mobilizing them to participate in ICT-led farming, sensitizing them about the benefits ICT-led farming, developing and operationalizing ICT-led farming tools, and training them in ICT-led farming skills.
Furthermore, other tasks are to include, linking the targeted farmers to key networks related to ICT-led farming, empowering them to utilize a customized web portal for gainful farming, conducting periodic, participator monitoring and evaluation of the initiative and, developing, producing and disseminating reports about the progress made by the initiative.
Types of ICTs for the farming initiative
To-date, a host of ICTs have been developed to support and transform agriculture into a gainful and lucrative sector. Among others, these include,
- Geographic Information systems (GIS) solutions: These serve as agro-analysis tools – to ensure desired farm profitability, conducive farm environment, effective resource control and management and, using data for timely updates and profiling of land sites, crops and pests.
- Solar phone solutions: To provide the much needed alternative energy source for farmers especially in rural areas where supply of hydro electricity is rated at 5% in Uganda. This source is best place to provide reliable energy supply for lighting, charging of phones and equipment such as computers and others.
- Mobile phones: To receive and share agro-based information regarding prices, markets, quality equipment, materials, impliments, pests management, weather patterns control, latest tips on farming practices and methods.
- Community radios: To provide opportunities to farmers to access and benefit from agro-based information especially for those farmers who may not possess mobile phones, computers and TVs.
- Computer: To serve as a platform for enabling farmers to access and benefit from agro-based information that is available on-line and in a timely manner
- Participatory Video Media (PVM): To empower the targeted farmers to access information from agro-based documentaries, films and clips. PVM also presents the opportunity for farmers to translate such information into local languages.
- Localized and Home-grown Digital Libraries/Media: To serve as sources of print and electronic media that farmers could borrow or buy for their desired use. Such media could also be translated into local languages.
For anybody who is interested in promoting ICT-Led agriculture in order to transform the lives of farmers in the Southern societies, it is recommended that one should endeavour to:
- Start by gathering as much information as possible about ICT-led agriculture,
- Move on to effectively plan for initiating the process for supporting and empowering the targeted youth farmers,
- Identify the farmer-groups (women, youth, gender-mixed) for mobilization
- Mobilize the identified farmer-groups to participate in such initiatives
- Assess the needs and capacities of the targeted farmer-groups
- Enhance and upgrade the capacities of the targeted farmer-groups in the skills of ICT-led farming
- Link the targeted farmer-groups to key networks, for support and promotion of ICT-led farming
- Provide a workable farmer-friendly-and-involving sustainability strategy
Writer: Herbert Lwanga, email@example.com