PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni, recently announced the suspension of National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) funds for the 2010/ 2011 financial year, but only temporarily. The money will be released after a special audit of beneficiaries and value for money in some projects which is already under
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni, recently announced the suspension of National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) funds for the 2010/ 2011 financial year, but only temporarily. The money will be released after a special audit of beneficiaries and value for money in some projects which is already underway.
The President was on a nation-wide tour to assess the impact of NAADS on farmers and their incomes following its resumption in April 2008 after a cabinet review.
The President has been making on-spot visits to farmers, making stop-overs in the rural areas to talk to the people about the programme and holding interactive rallies in each district where people raise their issues and local or government leaders are summoned to respond to them. The exchanges are quite candid, some of them proving what the President found on the ground.
The NAADS programme â€” now in its second phase and with an increase in funding from $108m to $460m, has made tremendous transformations at the grassroots. However, the programme has been riddled with shortcomings on the part of the implementers and some farmers.
It is undisputable that all districts in Uganda have been receiving funding for NAADS activities, some consistently since 2004. In most of northern Uganda and parts of Karamoja, however, NAADS and sub-county officials claimed the money was sent to the districts when people were still in the displaced peopleâ€™s camps or had no access to their fields because of the insecurity â€” thus the poor results.
The President questioned why the money was not sent back or withheld until the communities had settled like they have now? Where did the money go and who used it?
The peopleâ€™s main complaint has been that while the money is received at the districts, they never know when it comes or the criteria used to select the beneficiaries. Most of the beneficiaries are either district leaders or politicians.
In a few incidences, people complain that NAADS sub-county and district officials â€˜borrowâ€™ gardens, animals or projects of progressive farmers to dupe authorities.
More confusing though has been the guidelines by NAADS for six households per parish which has led people to believe this is discriminatory.
Some of these weaknesses are mainly as a result of ignorance. NAADS way of mobilising the ordinary people is littered with technicalities and bureaucracies at every level that makes people shy away from accessing information about the programme.
The President has directed that NAADS uses the media, particularly radios, to inform and educate the people when the money is sent, what it is to be used for and how much it is. This, according to some coordinators, has been impossible because they have no funding for radio mobilisation.
The idea of six farmers per parish was to promote model farmers (trainers of trainers). Progressive farmers were supposed to be supported all the way through the production level to value addition and be equipped as centres of demonstration.
Interested farmers around the parishes would then access these projects to learn the best agricultural practices, including modern agriculture and animal production, diversification and commercialisation, at no cost.
While this has not worked very well, it must be understood that the programme cannot cover all farmers at a go. This must be achieved gradually.
Some people can be supported while others can get the skills and initiate the projects on their own. The strategy has to change a little bit according to the President. With increased funding, NAADS will have to reach more farmers outside the six households.
The idea that for every 10 households, the Government can support these households with improved seeds and animal breeds, which can then rotate among them to ensure transparency and accountability, could be exploited.
Each family would be supporting and policing the other to ensure ownership.
In districts such as Luweero (pineapples), Soroti (citrus/oranges), central and northern districts (upland rice, poultry, piggery), western (milk, fruits and beef) Masaka (bananas and piggery, coffee, pineapples), Kalangala (bananas and value addition on fish), Kabarole (bananas, fruits, vegetables, milk)farmers who grasped the value of NAADS already boast of bumper harvests with some exporting to Europe, Sudan, Burundi, Kenya and Congo direct from their gardens.
Hundreds of households from Karamoja to Kanungu have also transformed their livelihoods with more permanent and iron roofed houses erected from agricultural earnings. Most of these farmers earn over sh20m a year.
The finance minister, Syda Bbumba in her budget speech this year, said interventions in the agricultural sector enabled it to recover from a slowdown in growth. This has been exhibited by bumper harvests. The bumper harvests of maize, rice, potatoes and other crops is a challenge which Government must quickly address.
Generally, NAADS has provided better advisory services and enabled farmers access technologies and shift from subsistence to modern and commercialised production.
Part of the problem affecting the implementation of NAADS is political interference. While this is an initiative of the NRM government, the money sent to the districts benefits all people, irrespective of political affiliations.
Saboteurs have been ridiculing the programme right from its implementation, thus disorienting the rural poor. Some politicians have deliberately worked to frustrate the farmers and fail the programme.
The Government has, and is still working on providing and rehabilitating infrastructure such as roads and electricity, but the responsibility of fighting poverty starts with the individual at the household level. Through NAADS, the Government has provided the skills and knowledge to fight poverty. Poverty knows no boundaries and the ability for an individual to acquire skills and the knowledge to transform their lives starts with them. That is why accessing information is key in any successful project.
For every programme, there should be a break to allow for evaluation and re-evaluation to close the gaps and tackle the challenges for a smooth implementation. With a more vibrant and all-inclusive NAADS, poverty in our rural homes will be history.
The writer is the deputy presidential press secretary
NAADS has potential to eradicate poverty