Improving Uganda’s agricultural productivity by empowering smallholders

Picture: Henry Luutu has trained over 5,000 smallholder farmers, and at least 1,000 households have fully adopted improved agronomic and SLM practices.

Uganda is a landlocked and fertile African country with many lakes and rivers. Despite its fertile soil and favourable weather, more than half of the population lives in poverty and lacks reliable access to food. With 83 per cent of the population reliant on subsistence agriculture, it is essential for smallholders to manage water resources sustainably and conserve their soil to sustain their livelihoods. Henry Luutu, the District Agricultural Officer of the Gomba District Local Government, has committed himself to create resilient farmer communities and developing smallholder farmers’ capacity to be more productive.

Henry, an Alumnus of Australia Awards, completed the Short Course on Soil and Water Conservation in Agriculture at the University of Queensland in 2014. Henry asserts that “the skills related to soil and water conservation, that I acquired while on-award developed my technical capacity to efficiently disseminate and implement sustainable land management (SLM) practices among smallholder farmers in Uganda”.

Henry implemented concepts of large-scale conservation agriculture that he learned in Australia and modified them to suit small-scale agriculture in Uganda. For example, he has used simple small hand-hoes to replace the specialised low-till tractors used in Australia. He also periodically conducts free field soil testing among selected smallholder farmers with simple soil testing kits. This testing is equivalent to the laboratory soil testing performed by most farmers in Australia to know the status of their soil before growing crops. He was also responsible for the design, management and implementation of agricultural productivity projects, which included sensitising smallholder farmers and mobilising their participation.

He has facilitated the economic empowerment of smallholder farmers by establishing farmers’ organisations and associations which strive to reduce poverty among rural farming households in the Gomba District. One example is the formation and strengthening of the Gomba District Farmers’ Association that has a membership of 2,500 farmers. Through the association, he has offered agricultural extension services, such as periodic free soil testing  and the development of “extension link farmers”. Extension link farmers are farmers selected from communities in the district whom Henry trains and empowers rigorously in areas of agricultural production, so that the farmers can educate and support other farmers in their communities. Henry uses this approach for the quicker dissemination of improved agronomic practices among a more extensive array of farmers.

He has also linked farmers or farmers’ organisations to financial institutions, investors and donors to support the improvement of agricultural productivity and farmers’ household incomes. Henry signed a memorandum of understanding with some banks in Uganda, including the Finance Trust Bank and Centenary Bank, to support farmers with credit to invest in their agricultural activities. Statistics show that the annual household income of farmers who benefit from Henry’s interventions have improved from below US$ 500 to over US$ 1052. The farmers’ associations that he works with aim to increase their household income to at least US$ 2630 by 2022.

In addition, Henry has written successful funding proposals to help fund the farmers. These proposals include the Farmer Organization Agroforestry project of Gomba from 2015 to 2017, the Coffee Restoration project, including a farmer-driven approach to restoring degraded forest landscapes in Gomba. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, through Vi Agroforestry, funds both of these projects (2018 to 2022). Henry has also linked farmers to the Ugandan Private Sector Foundation to market their produce, especially grains and coffee.

Generally, the impact of Henry’s interventions has increased household income among smallholder farmers. Households that grow maize have managed to increase their productivity from an average of 600 kg per hectare to 1,500 kg per hectare due to his continued training. In Uganda, keeping other factors constant, a high yield translates to increased incomes, so farmers earn US$ 118 more per hectare than previously. Women’s income has increased and the burden of tilling the land, which has mostly been the women’s responsibility, has been reduced due to conservation agriculture that promotes minimum tillage. Henry has trained over 5,000 smallholder farmers, and at least 1,000 households have fully adopted improved agronomic and SLM practices. The Gomba District Local Government has also benefitted as a stakeholder, as Henry’s initiatives achieve its mandate of improving the livelihood of rural communities in the district. Marginalised groups, including women, children and people living with HIV, have been mobilised and supported to implement income-generating activities.

These projects in the Kyegonza and Maddu sub-counties of Gomba started in 2014 and continue to have a positive impact on the farmers’ livelihoods and the environment in Uganda. “Considering the fact that these projects contribute directly to the achievement of Uganda’s National Development Plan, which highlights improved living conditions of smallholder farmers and a safe environment, I believe that these projects are important to Uganda’s development,” Henry says.

Henry directly contributed to the progress of Uganda’s agricultural sector by uplifting smallholder farmers. Empowering the farmers and improving their income will ultimately boost Uganda’s economy agrarian productivity.

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