Fast-Tracking Policy Development for a Food Secure Future: Uganda’s National Extension Policy
Most of Uganda’s food is grown by smallholder farmers to whom extension services are the lifeblood of farm productivity. Decisions like when, what and how to plant are often made in consultation with government extension agents who are the primary public-sector providers of advisory services to the bulk of their rural clients. Without this vital knowledge from effective agricultural extension agents, farmers and other value chain actors do not receive relevant knowledge, skills and information for increasing production, productivity, household incomes and general well-being while also satisfying the ever-growing commercial demand for food.
In the past, the extension service system had been low on the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF)’s funding priorities, resulting in understaffed and ill-funded district extension departments. The problem was aggravated by the absence of a comprehensive national policy on agricultural extension. Why was this gap exacerbating challenges to extension service delivery? Without a clear policy and implementation strategy in place, improvements to (and enforcement of) extension services provision was inconsistent and limited in its reach to the farmers who could benefit the most.
“When I served as a government extension officer, we did not have a guiding policy. This called for one to be creative around how they delivered services to the farmers,” - Beatrice Byarugaba head of the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services.
Efforts by the government of Uganda and development partners to advance policy instruments have historically had mixed success due to limited involvement of political leaders, exclusion of private sector actors and the slow pace at which the process progressed. For instance, the development of the National Fertilizer Policy took five years to conclude while the formulation of the National Seed Policy has taken more than ten.
To reform this essential service, MAAIF created the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES) in 2015, which offered a unique opportunity for restarting, redesigning, and reestablishing an effective and efficient agricultural extension service in Uganda. Tooling up the creation of a new national policy on agricultural extension was one of its first priorities. With financial and technical support from the USAID Feed the Future Uganda Enabling Environment for Agriculture Activity (EEA), the directorate adopted a multi-pronged approach that involved simultaneous development of the policy, implementation strategy and other required documents. The new approach was a major shift from the usual; previously, a government ministry would conduct stakeholder consultations, develop the policy and then conduct the regulatory impact assessment. This process was time consuming and was, on occasion, overtaken by other events. In addition, building consensus among all stakeholders was a building block for ownership by all.
Bambeine Benjamin (left), a village agent, advises Simpson Mujuni (right), a farmer, in Nyakatoma Village, Bushenyi District Uganda (Photo credit: USAID/CPM)
“With support from EEA, we conducted extensive consultations with 4,000 stakeholders from across Uganda, beginning in January 2016, and by October of the same year, the cabinet had approved the National Agricultural Extension Policy and Strategy,” - Patience Rwamigisa, commissioner for extension skills management at DAES.
EEA learned along the way that the rapid development and streamlined roll-out of the National Agriculture Extension Policy and Strategy was due to three major factors:
- Comprehensive concept plan and process: Working closely with DAES, EEA laid out clear steps and a path forward to guide the policy formulation process in advance. Rather than pushing specific policy objectives, the focus was to build out a rigorous policy process.
- Political will and buy-in for a speedy policy development process: Stakeholders such as MAAIF Top Policy Management, the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development, and the Cabinet Secretariat were involved from the beginning and throughout the formulation process.
- Wide and inclusive net of stakeholders: EEA consulted extensively with private sector and civil society organizations, and incorporated their input in the draft policy and strategy documents. Not only was the policy comprehensive and representative, but this approach easily lent itself to implementation of the policy, with the private sector readily complementing government extension service delivery systems.
Using these three key elements, beginning in January 2016, the policy formulation and consultation process was completed in five months. The cabinet ultimately approved the policy five months later, in October 2016. Implementation of the policy is underway — MAAIF has recruited more than 1,750 extension officers and plans to scale up a village agent model promoted under the USAID Feed the Future Uganda Commodity Production and Marketing Activity. This model leverages skill sets from a pool of public sector, civil society, and private sector actors.
Implementing the National Extension Policy and Strategy is contributing to increased yields from Ugandan farmers by connecting them to extension agents who support farmers to add value to their products and link them to market opportunities. In a country where agriculture contributes more than 24 percent to the overall gross domestic product, and agricultural exports account for 46 percent of total export earnings, enabling instruments in agricultural policy will better position Uganda for a food secure future.