By Flavia Nassaka
Part of NAADS problem is that it is used as a political tool
President Yoweri Museveni has ordered the closure of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) program. He says it has not delivered to his expectation. He now wants the money allocated to it to be redirected to Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations (SACCOs), including the Wazalendo SACCO of the army.
Among other issues, the President says NAADS spent Shs24 billion allocated to the project in the central region but, Museveni says, there is no sign of value for money on the ground.
Speaking on June 9 at this year’s 25th Heroes Day Anniversary celebrations held at Bukalamuli Catholic Parish grounds in Kikandwa Sub-county in Mityana District, the President said the money that has been “disappearing” under various government poverty alleviation programs will now be used by the army to buy and distribute agriculture materials and implements to farmers in the country.
The President said “the army will be working alongside other civil servants to promote food security and income generation”.
Other programs to be struck include microfinance, the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), and the Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP).
But critics say NAADS problem is that it is partly used as a political tool and was marked as a component of President Museveni’s “Prosperity for All” program popularly called “bona bagagawale”.
As a result, during its implementation in the villages, it is the supporters of Museveni’s NRM party who receive the free or subsidised inputs and implements. Some politicians send items to their allies only. This locks out deserving farmers.
Richard Mugisha, an advocacy officer at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM); a civil society organisation focusing on agriculture, points out that even appointing people to the Board was made politically. He says this goes against the Act.
Meanwhile, though the President has been referring to NAADS by all sorts of names including a ‘National Embarrassment’, some individuals who run the programme have refused to accept the blame.
Speaking to The Independent, Anthony Wanyoto; the NAADS Public Relations Officer, denied claims that NAADS misused tax payers’ money.
Wanyoto says NAADS has performed its mandate of “providing extension and advisory services” and those farmers under the programme now know how to choose appropriate seed varieties, animal breeds, and how to manage agriculture as a profitable business.
He says that the programme has contributed to reducing poverty levels and led the agriculture sector to grow by 2% this financial year. He says NAADS achieved these results in spite of lacking funds for its activities and extension workers. He said, as a result, NAADS extension workers have been compelled to make 1500 farmer visits per year instead of the recommended 1300 and denied the institution hires incompetent staff.
But President Museveni’s plan to disband NAADS equally has many supporters.
Richard Mugisha, the agriculture advocacy officer says NAADS has failed to educate farmers about the improved seed varieties and animal species provided. He tells the story of one Kakaire, who was rearing local breed goats when NAADS offered him hybrid goats.
Mugisha says, because Kakaire was not taught about the special care demanded by the hybrids, he took them to graze early every morning like the local breeds. Soon, however, the hybrid goats fell sick, and before the problem could be diagnosed, they died. Mugisha says the NAADS officials failed to tell Kakaire that hybrid goats are supposed to be taken to graze at around 11am when there is no dew on the grass.
Mugisha says NAADS problems stem from failure to interpret and translate its mandate, which was generated at the central level yet implementation is done at the village level.
“People in implementation are clueless about what NAADS is all about,” he says.
NAADS was set up through an Act of parliament; the NAADS Act of 2001. It is a semi-autonomous agency of the MAAIF and manages a 25-year National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) program. It is in its 13th year.
Under Article 5 objective (d) of the NAADS Act, NAADS was “to create options for financing and delivery of agricultural advice for the different types of farmers” but with emphasis on subsistence farmers, particularly women, youth and people with disabilities.
Before NAADS, in the 1990s, Uganda witnessed a wide range of reforms in the agricultural sector. Trade in agricultural inputs, output and services was opened up and state-owned enterprises that supported production and marketing were turned over to private-sector operators. Former civil servants who provided agriculture extension services were laid off.
The reforms had both positive and negative consequences. Some of the negative effects of the reforms, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) were income inequality which came with an increase in the proportion of the very poor in the early 1990s, the collapse of public extension services, credit and marketing services, and falling agriculture productivity.
To overcome the negative consequences of agricultural reforms, the government of Uganda, with support from the World Bank and other donors, restructured the country’s extension system, as part of the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA), from unified public extension to a public-private partnership (PPP) extension system. The reforms resulted into the establishment of NAADS.
Since NAADS is a long term program, it was undertaken in phases. The first phrase lasted ten years from 2001 to 2010 at a cost of US$ 108 million. The second phrase which started in 2010 is supposed to end in 2015, under the Agriculture, Technology and Agri-business Advisory Services (ATAAS). It is projected to cost at least US$450 million.
Diverted from original purpose
Robert Anguzu, the PRO of the National Agricultural Research Organisation(NARO) says 10 years is enough time assess whether a programme is fulfilling its mandate or not.
Okasaai Opolot, Director of Crop Resources at MAAIF also says that he predicted earlier in 2005 that NAADS would collapse. He says he sensed trouble when implementation guidelines were revised and program administrators diverted from provision of technical services to distributing free or subsidized inputs to beneficiaries.
Okasaai says, at that time farmers mindset was changed from expecting technical services and advice from NAADS to materials.
“The fact that there were no clear criteria on who was to receive the materials made the situation worse as people started to corrupt NAADS officials in order to benefit,” he says.
Swaibu Mbowa, a research fellow at Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) also says that NAADS strayed because of this “diversion from the original purpose”.
He says it also suffers from poor information dissemination, lack of an implementation framework, and too much bureaucracy before accessing services.
“Once this is cleared, I believe NAADS will go back on track,” Mbowa says.
Okasaai recommends that for NAADS to work, its activities have to be streamlined into the mother ministry.
“All money to support the agriculture sector should be brought back to MAAIF for easy monitoring and ensuring accountability,” he says.
Currently, NAADS is funded more than even the mother ministry of Agriculture. But Okasaai’s idea differs from that of President Museveni who wants the NAADS money allocated to the Wazalendo SACCO of the army.
The Wazalendo SACCO is for Uganda army personnel, its reserve force, members of their families, and staff of the ministry of Defense. Formed in 2005, it had about 65,000 members and net assets worth about US$43.7 million by end of 2013.
Museveni says the Wazalendo SACCO has demonstrated exceptional service delivery to its members. That is why he wants it to get the NAADS money. If that happens, it is not clear how NAADS will avoid being used as a political tool – especially in the 2016 general elections.