The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, CAES, in collaboration with Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) held a one day symposium on Agricultural transformation on 8th July 2014. The symposium, held at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT) Conference Hall-Makerere University, attracted a number of local and international delineates from the UK, USA, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Benin, Switzerland, Ghana and Japan. It was held under the theme, “Take it to the Farmer: The Relevance of Universities in Agricultural Transformation in Uganda.’ The symposium was as part of the events commemorating 100 years of Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Laureate, who together with former US president Jimmy Carter and Japanese philanthropist; Ryoich Sasakawa founded the SAA/Sasakawa Global 2000.
It also attracted a number of dignitaries including the former President of Benin, H.E Nicéphore Soglo, Uganda’s High Commissioner to the UK, Prof. Joyce Kikafunda, MPs and members of staff, Makerere University.
While opening the symposium, theMakerere University Chancellor, Prof. George Mondo Kagonyera, decried the food security question in Africa. “Africa has a big challenge of food security. Taking Uganda as an example, I have seen the population grow from 5m to 35m yet food production has not grown to the same ratio. Food shortage has even reduced the stature of people in Kigezi, my home area,” he lamented.
Chancellor Kagonyera made reference to Uganda’s recently read budget for the financial year 2015/16, which indicated an increment in taxation on farm implements. “I talk in frustration. We do not seem to see things change significantly in agriculture the backbone of our economy. Agricultural projects like the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture and its offspring, NAADs, have all not achieved the desired impact. In the last budget speech, the Minister proposed tax increments on agricultural items. I do not know whether the farming community was consulted, but is not fair,” he asserted.
The Chancellor reminisced the good old days when Makerere University was consulted before such decisions would be taken, he emphasized that high taxation on the agricultural sector will further compound the high levels of malnutrition in Uganda, at a time Government is increasingly advocating for Universal Primary Education, UPE. “How do you expect to educate a malnourished child, whose brain has not fully developed and who is always dosing in class because of hunger?” he wondered.
The Principal, CAES, Prof. Bernard Bashaasha called for more engagements in agriculture. “Governments in Africa need to re-engage in agriculture so that the supply and demand are addressed simultaneously. It is also critical to enhance multi-disciplinarily approach to all initiatives so that agriculture works with other fields. You cannot do it alone,” he said.
High Commissioner H.E Prof. Joyce Kikafunda observed that the time is right for Africa to make her case to the rest of the world. “It is time for Africa to bring out her needs and challenges. The post 2015 development agenda looks at inclusive development. Uganda has the UN Presidency now and we should make the best of this opportunity. In relation to involvement of all stakeholders in such gatherings, especially the farmers, I propose Think-Tanks comprised of a cross sectional representation of farmers, academicians, policy makers and the like,” she advised amidst applause. Many were happy that Prof. Kikafunda, a former member of staff, CAES was back home, at least to attend the symposium.
In an exclusive interview with the Public Relations Office, the Benin former President, who is also a member of the Sasakawa Board- H.E Nicéphore Soglo, pointed out that it is necessary to show that good life can be obtained even in the villages without necessarily coming to town. He referred to a visit he had had to a one acre farm in Entebbe owned by Dr. Nyamutale Natalie – on which she carries out a variety of activities including fish farming, poultry rearing and cultivation. “It is good to show that in each village you can do this. It is not necessary to come to town to have a good life. You can have a good life even in the village. From what I saw on this farm, I want to go back and share the same with the people of Benin,” he said.
CAES has a long history of working with Sasakawa in capacity building, including opportunities extended to students and farmers. According to the CAES Principal, Prof. Bashasha, these engagements are good ground for addressing the rampant youth unemployment through skills enhancement.
In relation to youth unemployment, one of the panelists-Mr. Charles Ocici of Enterprise Uganda pointed out that the biggest deterrent is the mind set, focusing on white-collar jobs. “Agriculture is a low hanging sector for anyone to get into, with numerous opportunities right from production all the way to processing. Attitude is the challenge. The dogma that you go to school and get a job afterwards is so entrenched in our young generation and is a hindrance to entrepreneurship. Many think that agriculture is for those who have failed,” he emphasized. “The private sector will not buy from you because of your age, qualifications, tribe, or gender. We will buy from the best service provider. It is a brutal sector of choice, competition, continuous learning but is certainly very rewarding,” he added.
Sharing his experience on the same, Prof. Jacob Agea, a member of staff, CAES, Makerere University revealed that he is actively engaged in a private business of supplying pigeons to a top hotel in Kampala and that he has every reason to smile when his pay cheque jets in from the proceeds. He encouraged others to follow suit by actively engaging in agriculture.
Sharing about the international experience, Dr. David Norman of Winrock International advised that it is critical to engage all players in the value chain to provide information to and from the farmers as a way of addressing emerging issues.