The World Bank, through the Export-Import Bank of Korea, has announced a $150 million financial boost to the information and communications technology programme for Uganda’s agriculture sector.
A senior agricultural specialist at the Uganda World Bank country office Joseph Oryokot, said that the funding will help the Ministry of Agriculture deploy ICT to become more effective and efficient. Such efficiency will then be extended to farmers.
“The programme will provide technical assistance to utilize ICT platforms and expand the scope of the ministry’s functionality, including sharing information,” said Mr Oryokot.
He added that in order to raise productivity, farmers require information on inputs, prices, transport to reach markets, pests and diseases, belter crop and animal management practices, and weather patterns.
The funding will be channeled through the World Bank’s Agricultural Cluster Development Programme.
Experts from the Republic of Korea were in Uganda for a five-day visit from June 26 – 30 2017, to share their skills on how to make the best use of ICT to develop the agricultural sector.
Sanghun Lee from the Korea Agency for Education, Promotion and Information Service said that, given the penetration of mobile phones in Uganda, the Ministry of Agriculture could use these as an avenue to inform and train farmers.
According to statistics from the Uganda Communications Commission, more than 20 million Ugandans are connected to a mobile telecommunication network.
“It means farmers can get information through their mobile phones. This could be simple text messages,” said Lee.
Joy Kabatsi, the State Minister for Agriculture in charge of Animal Industry said extension services, which are crucial to developing agriculture, remain low in Uganda.
The ratio of extension staff to farmers stands at one for every 5,000 farmers, which is far below the recommended 1:500.
This, coupled with the prevailing extension delivery approach based on face-to-face contact is unsustainable because financial and human resources are often insufficient.
Government has been called upon to formulate a national E-agriculture policy to regulate the emerging industry and to promote speedy and wider adoption of the use of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) in agriculture.
Uganda urged to use ICT in promoting agriculture
According to Fhiwa Ndou, the Head of User Acquisition at We Farm, a free peer-to-peer service that enables farmers to share information via SMS, there is need to promote the deployment of appropriate ICT tools and services at each stage of the agricultural value chain.
Fhiwa said that the Government can develop digital literacy programmes for young farmers and agri-business, as well as strengthen ICT incorporation into agricultural curricula for sustainable development.
“The use of ICT in agriculture is so essential; it will enable easy spread of information to farmers for example the outbreak of pests and diseases like the armyworm,” said Fhiwa.
Fhiwa said this during the official opening of Wefarm offices in Bukoto.Fhiwa noted that the use of ICT in today’s agricultural practices could not be overemphasized because it could be used to carry out soil tests, to apply fertilizer, receive extension advice and weather forecasts, monitor pests and diseases and make marketing decisions.
He explained that since many young people have access to smart phones and are using internet, the potential of easing agricultural knowledge transfer is limitless.
Justus Byaruhanga, the programme officer of We farm said; Uganda National Meteorological Authority must adopt ICT tools such as mobile phones to disseminate weather information to farmers in the form of text and voice messages among other technological interventions to attract young people towards agriculture.
“The use of ICT helps farmers to decide when to harvest; when to weigh produce in the field, Like at We farm we collect all data shared by SMS in order to analyze the real challenges faced by smallholder farmers and map trends and issues such as drought, disease or crop diversification,” he explained.