Uganda agriculture leader strives to help low-income farmers
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/10/uganda-agriculture-leader-strives-to-help-low-income-farmers/
By Michael Holm
Robert Galusanja Kibirango built his career from the ground up — as a farmer.
Growing up on his family’s farm, young Robert would get up early each morning before school to help his father with the chores. It was his father’s influence that enabled Robert to develop a sustained interest in farming.
It was an interest that later turned into his passion that he learned to leverage to earn enough money to pay for his education. This went from Bishop Secondary in Mukonoto a Bachelors in Procurement and Logistics Management at Uganda Christian University (UCU), through completion his Masters in Business Administration (also from UCU) with a dissertation on corporate governance.
It was also during his time at UCU that he learned about servant leadership — which has become an integral part of his leadership philosophy.
Today, as Board of Directors chairperson of Uganda’s National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), Kibirango is still a farmer, with two sites — one in Mukono District and one in nearby Buyikwe District — where he keeps 3,000 laying hens, raises goats and cows and grows bananas, cassava and maize. It was his interest in farming and his passion for helping members of his agricultural community learn best practices that inspired him to take them to successful farms far and wide so they could visit, listen and ask questions. He also found other ways to provide training, even when it meant loading 12 farmers into his pickup truck for a five-hour drive to Masaka or conducting trainings in his own home.
His work did not go unnoticed. Residents became more open about expressing their needs. Once, Kibirango visited a woman who told him she needed a heifer. Another farmer proudly presented him with five liters of fresh milk in appreciation for his help.
The farmers Kibirango befriended all those years chose him as MukonoSubcounty Farmer Forum Chair, where he used his leadership skills to further promote agricultural best practices and subsequently lead the effort for the entire Mukono District. When NAADS was formed, Mr. Kibirango, as the leader of a large farmer’s group, was one of nine chosen from 347 candidates for a position on the fledgling Board of Directors. Later, when the board chair resigned, Kibirango was appointed chair, a position he has held for over four years.
Small-scale farming in Uganda often means resource scarcity, poor soil and arduous labor — in a word, hardship. Yields are not optimized and small-scale farmers too often receive low prices for their commodities. For Kibirango, that status quo is unacceptable.
NAADS, founded in 2001 by Uganda’s national government, works to change that by dedicating itself to helping these farmers throughout Uganda. One asset to this assistance is a partnership with Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), a collaborative effort started by President YoweriMuseveni and designed to improve standards of living for Ugandans — especially rural ones. OWC, with its many partners, seeks to raise living standards and improve on economic equity for those living below poverty thresholds by improving agricultural policies and practices, increasing productivity, modernizing technologies in local economies, upgrading rural infrastructure and stimulating economic development in local communities.
For example, this past July, the NAADS Monitoring & Evaluation Team conducted a field study to compare NAADS tissue cultures with local materials at a large-scale plantation in Kiryandongo District. The team demonstrated that banana plantlets, which are free of disease at planting,could be maintained through proper crop management.
By providing information and resources that farmers need, NAADS continues to work to improve agricultural performance in Uganda — from one percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2009 to 3.6 percent today. The help that NAADS includes seed and other materials for planting maize (corn), beans, tea, mangoes, pineapples and apples. The organization also works to improve communication among stakeholders, facilitate organizational development among farmer and community groups and to provide vital educational resources about agricultural best practices.
In addition to 800,000 hoes, NAADS recently procured 280 tractors from India with plans to begin distribution of the first 100 tractors through local farmer and community groups when they are ready and once operational guidelines are finalized. Currently, the average cost to till one acre is 100,000 Ugandan schillings (UGX), or about $27. Through advances in mechanization, Kibirango hopes to improve efficiencies and reduce labor costs, which in turn will boost the standard of living for many farmers and literally improve their lots.
NAADS also is working with Operation Wealth Creation to build processing and production capacity for Uganda. Kibirango believes that building this capacity will enable the country to improve employment and infrastructure outlooks and work to capture a vital part of the supply chain for its agricultural commodities. Uganda’s cocoa crop, for example, is exported in raw form for processing in other countries. For NAADS, cocoa is a priority commodity. During the 2018/19 fiscal year, NAADS distributed 3,910,986 cocoa seedlings. Kibirango sees no reason why Uganda cannot own this means of production.
There is much work to be done. Sugar cane sometimes threatens wetlands, forests are compromised for hidden grazing ,and shifting rainy seasons are adding hardship for subsistence farmers. Land use, crop rotation, proper fertilization, irrigation, processing, mechanization and solar dryers are all part of NAADS’ plan for adding value to Ugandan agriculture. Although it is not a regulatory agency, NAADS provides policy guidance and encouragement to ensure that best practices are maintained so that Ugandan farmers will be able to sow smart and reap in abundance.
“Poverty is in the minds of people,” insists Kibirango, who long ago asked himself what he could do to help and then leveraged his servant leadership skills to the cause. “Within me,” Kibirango says, “I’ve always liked to see people happy. When you make people happy, you’re happy.”
Kibirango tells his constituents that “being a farmer is not a curse.” He still loves to visit farmers throughout Uganda and personally conducts some of the on-site reviews five or six times every year. He asks them about their hopes and their ambitions. Kibirango knows he can relate to these farmers on their own level and they respond with friendship and trust.
And why wouldn’t they? He is one of them.
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