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Radio waves shall transform Agriculture

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Radio waves shall transform Agriculture

NAADS PRO Anthony Wanyoto

Building on the dominant presence of radio as a medium of communication and the emerging new technologies can go a long way in improving agriculture, accounts for 39% of gross domestic product (GDP) and contributes significantly to national and household food security.

In order to provide a context to the analysis of the National Agricultural Advisory Service in Uganda, this article presents some of the most relevant trends and Initiatives that influenced the way NAADS was designed and implemented.

Since the early 1980s, Sub-Saharan Africa was subjected to structural

adjustment programmes promoted by multilateral institutions, meant to reorient African economies to the market. Uganda has not been an exception and since mid 1980s, the Government has engaged in a process of economic recovery, embracing such structural adjustment policies and promoting market liberalization.

These reforms were the response to a previous period of political and economic mismanagement that resulted in social and institutional collapse.

The main objectives of these measures were to improve resource allocation and reduce the role of the government in production and commercial activities while promoting a more active and stronger involvement of the private sector.

These reforms were also accompanied by a gradual decentralization process that has transferred responsibilities from the central government to local councils (districts and sub-counties), with the goal of improving civil society participation, empowering local people in decision making and optimizing service delivery.

As far as agriculture is concerned, the reforms were oriented towards the liberalization of factors markets, the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers (particularly those for inputs) and the elimination of export taxes.

In addition, institutional adjustments have been and are currently being implemented, mainly in terms of privatization of government enterprises and handing over responsibilities to the private sector. One of the major initiatives undertaken within the sector was to dissolve the Extension Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, and transfer the duty of advisory services provision to local governments.

Extension was identified as a key service to enhance agricultural productivity in colonial times. In 1960, the colonial government brought in organized agricultural extension that advised farmers on improved methods of coffee production, and later broadened out to other crops and livestock. At that time, the government sent out instructors to teach crop production. These farmers were innovative and generally better off and received government support for inputs and extension services. They followed recommended practices, thereby providing an example to other farmers. Through all these stages, the predominant extension approach involved individual contact and coercion.

The importance of a group approach was recognized as a faster way of spreading messages to the farming community. In trying to enhance the group approach, the “block extension system”, a modified training and visit system, was adopted with the aim of improving farmer coverage. The approach then went beyond specialized groups and tried to contact a wider range of farmers, including the resource poor and women.

There have been new players coming into agricultural extension services during the 1990s, including NGOs, the private sector and farmer organizations. The current agricultural extension policy, built on the principles of pluralism in extension delivery and decentralized and demand-driven planning, was launched by the government in 2000

The policy environment for agriculture in Uganda since 1997 has been shaped by several national level policy frameworks. These include the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) and its successor the National Development Plan (NDP); as well as the Prosperity for All (PFA).

At agriculture sector level, these frameworks were implemented through the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA) and the Rural Development Strategy (RDS). For a while, the PMA and RDS existed in parallel, were duplicative and recommended varied approaches.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) published the first DSIP in 2005 to implement the agriculture chapter of the NDP. The National Agricultural Policy was recently launched in September 2014, and is intended to harmonize the different thoughts and approaches to national agricultural development in Uganda. (National Agricultural Policy, September 2013)

Individual, group and mass-media approaches to agricultural extension and advisory services have been used concurrently. The continuing increase in the number of farming families has led to a growing emphasis on approaches that reach more people at a time.

Realizing the importance of mass media in extension, the use of radio has evolved in terms of the policies, laws, approaches and players involved.

The rationale for using radio in extension and advisory services came from an understanding that radio is an excellent, cost-effective means of sharing knowledge, building awareness, facilitating informed decision-making and supporting the adoption of new practices by small-scale farmers.

The Uganda All Media and Product Survey 2012 by Ipsos a Uganda based research firm indicates that nationally there are 19.8m radio sets in households.

“Radio regularly reaches 93% of rural households; it is affordable, accessible to the illiterate, can use local languages, and can give voice to end-users critical for effective agricultural extension and advisory services,”according to Rose AligumaWekoye, Audience Research, Marketing & Communication Manager at Ipsos Uganda.

Radio broadcasts began in Uganda in 1952, and television was available from 1963. Both types of broadcasting were provided solely by the government until liberalization in the early 1990s. Since then, there has been a large increase in the number of private radio and television stations. The number of licensed radio stations now stands at over 200, of which over 190 are operational, while 35 of the 50 licensed television stations are on air.

The short message service (SMS) is popular in Uganda. According to UCC, some 294 million SMS messages were sent during the January-March 2009 period, compared to 190 million in the preceding quarter (October-December 2008). And operators now offer information services via SMS, including news, weather forecasts and sports results. The use of SMS to ask for information from expert sources is another way that communications can be improved for rural residents.

Radio, in combination with other ICT services such as mobile phones, offers an inclusive, personable and multi-dimensional communication platform. With effective capacity support to radio stations and their personnel, broadcasters can produce high-impact radio programs and phone-in shows, facilitate and record community discussions and debates, document the experiences of individual farmers and other value-chain actors, put farmers’ questions to subject specialists, and link sellers with buyers on air.

Use of radio in agricultural extension and advisory services is more effective when it complements and triggers demand for better performance from existing extension services and other agricultural support services. Radio is more effective if programs are developed with and for farmers: a “farmers’ first, farmers throughout and farmers last” approach.

Investments in pre-broadcast research into farmers’ interests and feedback from listeners are critical for successful radio-enhanced agricultural extension. Let’s embrace this opportunity for wealth creation.

Anthony Wanyoto, Public Relations Officer NAADS awanyoto@gmail.com

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