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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
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
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
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
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
- 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