Event Reports

Harnessing Digitalization for the development of Agricultural value chains in Uganda

It’s not common that you find Agriculturalists discussing digital engagements in theirgatherings in Uganda. If it’s not dwelling on pests and diseases, they are probably talkingabout weather effects, produce handling, market access and other elements of the valuechain.

With seven out of ten Ugandans directly earning from the Agriculture Value chain, it is

becoming increasingly important to give this sector the attention it needs. Studies have

revealed how it’s inefficiently run currently and going digital seems to be one of the

catalysts aimed at reducing this inefficiency.

The 1 st of June 2018 saw all roads leading to Makerere University’s School of Food

Technology, Nutrition and Bio-engineering for the 2018 Private Sector Forum under the

theme, “Harnessing Digitization for the Development of Agricultural Value chains in

Uganda.” The audience was a healthy mix of youths, private sector professionals,

government officials and solution providers. Thanks to the support provided by ACTADE,

Uganda National Farmers Federation and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the array of

discussants was very impressive.

In his welcome remarks, Mr Donnas Ojok a Programme Officer with Konrad-Adenauer-

Stiftung (KAS) kicked off the event by clarifying on the role of the Private Sector Forum

events which is largely focused on shaping conversations, policies, discourses and

practices aimed at making the private sector a key pillar in promoting inclusive and

sustainable human progress. The interest by KAS, a politically oriented organisation in

agriculture is premised on the fact that it is the leading employment sector and if not

addressed, that creates a recipe for economic disaster and political crisis.

The key-note speech was delivered by Mr. Michael Niyitegeka in which raised a number of

pertinent issues that provoked the minds of those present. He took time to impress upon

us about the proliferation of Mobile technology in the country and why any form of

digitization should put the Mobile at the core of its efforts.

Mobile Money is a good example with 22 Million registered users currently accounting for

nearly 50% of the population. Mobile connections are currently pegged at 70% of the

population with 30 million phone users currently subscribed. The total number of Mobile

Internet users is at 17.6 Million while mobile access accounts for 79% of all web traffic

from Uganda. All these are telltale signs that the mobile is taking centre stage.

The digital landscape in Uganda while still evolving is also too random to make sense.

There is a lot of effort put into launching initiatives yet there is at the same time the lack of

a digital strategy at a national level. This observation by Michael was later re-echoed by Dr

Drake Mirembe of Makerere University.

As earlier observed, if 70% of the population is reliant on agriculture, then its digitization is

becoming more and more pertinent. “Without Agriculture, nothing is!” stated Michael in his

speech.

Technology has until the recent past not been an integral part of the government

Agriculture oriented projects and in most cases only received mere mention during the

concept development.

However, the tide seems to be changing at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and

Fisheries (MAAIF). As of 2013, the ratio of Extension workers to farming households was

1:5000. It is such a scary statistic as it means that if an extension worker were to make the

choice of visiting each and every farming homestead, they would only make one visit

during their entire career. MAAIF however has not only come up with a new Extension

Policy but also created an online database of Extension Service providers. It’s however

crucial to find out the practicality of such an initiative to the small holder farmers.

A number of youthful participants put the Government on spot over the failure to support

their ideas and innovations, something that has not gone down well with them. They

lamented about their failure to get access to government officials and projects as well as

their slow pace of embracing technology.

These innovators happen to be unimpressed with the slow pace of uptake of technological

solutions by the smallholder farmers. They feel it slows down their ability to scale

innovations.

Some participants underscored the need for digitisation by appreciating the opportunities it

creates like better monitoring of operations, facilitating payments, bridging the knowledge

gap as well as developing a data ecosystem that is likely to make faming more profitable.

At one point, the discussion veered into the taxation debates that have taken the interest

of many Ugandans lately. The proposed tax on Social Media and Mobile Money was seen

as a killer for the numerous innovators that are struggling to get their ideas into action. The

tax man, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) was ably represented and his submission was

clearly pushing all blame on tax matters to the authorities that manage the legislation. This

then brought into question the issue of who advises the Ministry of Finance as well as the

Parliamentarians prior to their decision making on tax issues. “The same parliament that

approves the financial inclusion policy in Uganda is the same parliament that approves

levying taxes on social media and mobile money transactions,” observed Robert Ssuuna,

a policy analyst from URA. He further went ahead to intimate that you cannot talk about

taxation in any economy without talking technology. It seems therefore in the interests of

Government to stimulate technological development in order to effectively increase the tax

base.

The move by MAAIF to register all farmers nationwide was also viewed as a sign of

Government’s interest in sector digitisation. Dr Patience Rwamigisa, a commissioner from

MAAIF intimated that, “If we could suspend infrastructure development for only two years

and put that money into agriculture, we would not need loans to build roads in the third

year.” He is fully convinced that the small budget allocation for the sector ministry is largely

responsible for the failure to make the strides expected in digitizing agriculture.

Various providers of digital solutions to the Agriculture value chains used this opportunity

to pitch and share what they are doing in this space. Mercy Corps took time to share about

the Market-led, User-owned ICT4Ag enabled Information Service (MUIIS) that they have

successfully deployed in Uganda and is already transforming the Agricultural value chain

engagement in their regions of operation. The MUIIS service bundle consists of agronomic

tips and index based insurance throughout the season covering maize, beans, sesame

and soya beans.

Yo! Uganda, MTN Uganda and Opportunity Bank all shared about their digital platforms

that are being used to interface with the farming community by providing value.

Holland Greentech pitched its soil testing scanner that can check for soil pH and fertility

levels in combination with smartphone apps all in a span of ten (10) minutes only. Its

mobility, speed of use, instant recommendations as well as integration to a cloud based

database are some of the features that make it an enticing proposition. By integrating

block chain, it should be possible to create a universally accessible ledger of soil profiles.

At the close of the event, some of the take homes were;

- The need for Government to work with other stakeholders is very crucial in this

push for digitization of agriculture. The different stakeholders bring on board

numerous experiences that could help align any strategy being developed.

- There is a need for a robust policy framework to support innovation in the

Agricultural sector. This framework should consider the interests of the various

stakeholders if it’s to be relevant.

- There is a looming need to educate farmers to embrace solutions designed by the

Agricultural innovators. This should be able to help innovators scale their

operations.

- Digitizing agriculture is likely to have a bigger impact if farmers are encouraged to

operate in groups as opposed to individual approaches.

Report compiled by James Wire, Agribusiness and Technology Consultant

Twitter: @wirejames

Blog: www.wirejames.com

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