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China unlocks Uganda agriculture

Vincent Ssempijja (R), the agriculture minister launched a new high-yielding rice variety during a tour by the delegates of the Industrial Park in Luwero District. COURTESY PHOTO

US$2.4m to finance third phase of the FAO-China South-South cooperation

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Loyda Twinomujuni is a successful dairy farmer from Mbarara in south-western Uganda with 200 cows. She says about 110 of these are milked and each gives about 16 litres daily. But it was not always so rosy on the farm. Twinomujuni recalls when her family had just 86 cows that were unhealthy with a low fertility rate.

“We used to get an average of eight litres per cow,” she recalls.

Twinomujuni says “everything changed” when her family was introduced to Chinese trainers who taught them about better techniques of dairy farming and a new variety of pasture that they planted.

“The results were almost instant,” Twinomujuni says.

“Our cows became healthy, the fertility rate went up, and productivity has since doubled per cow,” she says.

“We now have too much milk,” she says, “But this is a good problem.”

She says her dream now is to go into commercial production of milk-based items such as yoghurt, ice cream, and cheese. She also hopes to possibly export her dairy products to China.

Sophie Mugala is a rice farmer from Budaka in eastern Uganda. She also says her farm changed soon after Chinese trainers introduced her to modern techniques of growing rice. She says they made her realise how wrong her family and her entire village had been going about that business.

She has since learnt how to apply fertilizers and modern rice planting, weeding, harvesting and drying methods. She says she now earns more money and is a trainer of other rice farmers in neighbouring communities.

Mugala and Twinomujuni are part of hundreds of Ugandan farmers who say Chinese trainers and methods have improved their farms and lives.

They are all beneficiaries of a Chinese government sponsored hands-on skills training programme which has been running for the last 10 years in 12 African and Asian countries. The skills training for small scale farmers is among several projects of the South-South Cooperation programme which China and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have been collaborating with the sub-Saharan countries.

The local farmers alongside diplomats, government officials, researchers, academics and agri-business experts met recently, from Nov.25-27 in Kampala, to celebrate the collaboration under the theme; “South-South and Triangular Cooperation: Inspiration, Inclusion and Innovation.”

The UN defines “South-South Cooperation” as “a process where two or more developing countries pursue their individual and/or shared national development objectives through exchange of knowledge, skills, resources and technical know-how.”

Shengyao Tang, the director of the Office of the South-South Cooperation told delegates that the programme focuses on food security and farmers’ income and livelihoods, adding that “the principle is to teach local people how to fish rather than giving them fish.”

With hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens having been lifted out of poverty under a generation, experts at the conference said the Asian economic giant offers practical agricultural technological and policy solutions that can be useful for other developing countries.

Lifeng Wu, a senior official in the Department of International Cooperation in China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs told delegates that China had so far sunk up to US$ 80 million into the programme.  He said more than 70,000 small-scale farmers in rural areas and hundreds of thousands of others have benefitted from the programme.

Lifeng said hundreds of low-cost, scalable technological innovations adapted to the local environmental and socio-economic context have been introduced, tested, and demonstrated. They also include over 330 species and varieties, over 120 broad categories of plant and animal production practices, and over 200 types of agricultural machinery and tools.

“The programme is inclusive, involving stakeholders at all levels, based on the principle of “leaving no one behind,” he said, “It embraces farmers, women and rural youth, governmental and non-governmental partners.”

Offering experience and expertise

Beneficiaries have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

Chinese and government officials from countries where the programme has been running say it is an important source of inspiration for countries, development partners, and farmers.

They also note that the technological knowledge accumulated in China, especially in relation to the sustainable intensification of agriculture offers great potential for exchange with other countries of the global south, and is highly relevant to south-south cooperation initiatives.

China, for instance, offers a wide range of experience and expertise in developing agricultural value chains and promoting related business models and public-private partnerships.

Chinese value chains have undergone profound changes over the past decades that reduce transaction costs and enhance transparency, thanks to recent developments in information technology.

By putting emphasis on increasing rural incomes and improving rural livelihoods, the programme has contributed to enhancing local villages’ economies and markets, achieving a sense of potential prosperity and slowing outmigration flows of young people like Sophie Mugala, the rice farmer from eastern Uganda.

The programme also explores collaborations with relevant stakeholders in order to promote the digitization of agriculture and rural development to benefit smallholders in those countries that request it.

Speaking about the programme successes so far, Abebe Haile-Gabriel, the FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa said the programme had boosted knowledge and technical exchanges, technology transfer and engaged with thousands of rural working women and youth.

In Uganda farming has for generations been characterised by low on-farm production and productivity, and inadequate investments which have hampered commercialization.

The FAO-China South-South programme has tried to unlock the sector with close to 3,000 farmers and 80 extension staff trained. There have also been three capacity development study tours for policy and technical staff conducted in China.

Seven agricultural technology demonstration hubs have been established throughout the country, showcasing effective technologies in horticulture, livestock, cereals, aquaculture, renewable energy, agro-machinery, value addition and sustainable business models. Significant private investments have also taken root.

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