When the government launched the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) in 2001, the aim was to provide farmer education through provision of advisory services in order to improve farming practices in rural Uganda.
The programme, which was intended to help rural farmers apply scientific knowledge and research to their agricultural practices, was to be implemented in three phases over a 25-year period. Fifteen years since its launch, BENON HERBERT OLUKA explores how the programme lost its way: –
In early 2009, President Museveni wrote a five-page letter to the then minister for agriculture, Eng. Hilary Onek, decrying what he described as mishandling of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) programme.
Museveni complained that Naads officials were “scattering resources” to many homesteads, rather than stick to the six-homesteads-per-parish model that he had prescribed for the multibillion-shilling initiative.
“Naads [officials] are again bringing confusion with demonstration farmers, model farmers, lead farmers, etc,” Museveni noted. “I do not care what you call those farmers. Resources should only be spent on six homesteads. If there is one lead farmer, one model and four demonstration farmers that is perfect with me.”
Museveni would further castigate the minister for letting his charges to bypass the existing government extension workers and instead hire private advisory service providers to offer the expertise that civil servants would have provided at no additional cost to the state.
“We directed that the Naads programme be implemented by existing government extension workers. Why do you hire other ‘advisory services’ from elsewhere? This is short-hand for stealing,” he noted.
Five days after President Museveni’s missive, a value for money audit report from the Office of the Auditor General leaked. The report showed that nearly 70 per cent of the farmers who had participated in trainings provided by Naads were dissatisfied with the way the programmes were conducted.
“Only 32 per cent of the farmers interviewed expressed satisfaction with the trainings. Although all the advisory service providers meet the minimum requirements, they are not meeting the user satisfaction in terms of quality. There was no evidence that the programme was undertaking any quality analyses,” said the report, compiled after interviewing 600 farmers from 12 randomly-selected districts.
These developments stoked the flames of discontent within the top leadership of government, which eventually consumed Naads as had initially been designed. On June 9, 2014, during Heroes’ day celebrations in Mityana district, President Museveni eventually announced that the government would terminate Naads, sack all extension workers and resurrect it under the leadership of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers.
By the time Museveni decided to pull the plug on Naads, some 10 years before its intended conclusion date, the programme had a mixed report card. A study undertaken in 2013 by the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) revealed that while households that participated in Naads had higher access to extension services, the quality of the services remained a concern.