Uganda‟s 2010 newly launched National Development Strategy has prioritised smallholder agriculture as an area for strategic investment to create wealth, support economic growth and fight food and nutrition insecurity(GOU, 20081; Anon, 20082, GOU 20103). The focus on smallholder agriculture is underpinned by it being the pillar of livelihood strategies for > 70% of Uganda‟s population, yet it is characterised by low productivity (about US$ 200 per year) and declining per capita food production (from 170 kg to 93kg) over a five year period 2000- 2005 (FAO, 2006)4.Reduction in agricultural productivity can be attributed to several factors including the inappropriateness of technologies in the diverse and heterogeneous smallholder farming systems (Giller et al., 2006)5, lack of access to input and output markets, and lack of supportive extension advise (Bellon et al, 2002)6. The combined effects of these constraints inadvertently affect improved technology adoption and use. Thus addressing these development imperatives within the context of sustainability is the foundation of the new National Development Strategy (NPD). Specifically, the elements, 1 4, 5 of the NDP that is: (1) Uplifting household standards of living by increasing household incomes and economic choices, agriculture and development of complete value chains, food and nutrition security, access to quality of education, (4) developing efficient, innovative and internationally competitive industries by deepening the role of science and technology in development, take advantage of Uganda‟s geographical position as a regional hub to provide quality goods and services through centres of excellence, and (5) to develop and optimally exploit the natural resource base and ensure environmental and economic sustainability; all require a strong but effectual partnership of critical elements of agricultural research and development. It is in that line that this proposal has been developed to ensure that the University, one of the critical actors in agricultural development plays critical role in mobilizing its agricultural science and technology to contribute to poverty eradication. Equally important is the need to support the transformation of rural farming to competitive forms by re-orientation of rural farming from subsistence to market led types through supportive policy instruments, skills development and information access.
The transformation of rural economies into market led forms for most developing economies can be broadly categorised in two forms i.e., state and market led. Interestingly, both approaches have not led to drastic increases in smallholder productivity especially in Africa, because of lack of long-term productive investments in agricultural research extension and rural development (Doward et al., 2009)7; coordination and institutional failure in market value chains under liberalisation policy of the 1980‟s (Doward and Kydd, 2004)8; and high cost of service delivery, the poverty soil fertility trap (UN Millennium project, 2005)9 and lack of technological development in the agricultural sector (Ellis, 2005)10. Accordingly, the new rural agricultural development paradigm seeks to address these loopholes in a holistic and multifaceted manner.The value chain approach has been heralded as successful in the agricultural growth of Brazil, Argentina and China over the last 20 yearsbecause it is (i) holistic, (ii) supports institutions and facilitates a coordinated resource management by various actors at a low cost, and (iii) it builds lesson learning for refinement of future interventions (Dorward et al., 2009). Omamo (2003)11 proposes a pragmatic approach of stimulating agricultural productivity at smallholder level by focussing on investments that will enhance the “how” component of engaging with communities rather than the past experience focussing on the “what and why” through action research involving multi-institutions and directly engaging with communities. Focussing on the “how” is innovation, which is not merely conceptual, but rather the result of an iterative process of design; field testing, refinement and promotion.Likewise value chains have been embraced in Uganda and their strengthening is deemed important (Mutabwire, 2008)12. In Uganda and the rest of Eastern Africa, value chains have been prioritised as a key development intervention area for agricultural research and development (ARD) by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA). The agricultural productivity enhancement project of USAID applied the technology- market model to strengthen value chains of maize, cotton, and beans through demonstrations on how to increase on farm production and organizing farmers to access markets (ChemonicsInt, 2008)13. The Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Project (APEP) initiative attempted to engage University students and yielded a first step of exposing student‟s to real farming environment that smallholders operate in but not necessarily adjusting the staff and students to experiential learning that can generate new knowledge (Kibwika 2006)14. There is a current initiative by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Technologies for Agriculture (TECA) being piloted in Rwanda, Swaziland and Uganda (www.fao.org/teca)15. The TECA initiative aims at improving access to information and knowledge sharing about proven technologies in order to enhance their adoption in agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry thus addressing food security, climate change, poverty alleviation and sustainable development. This initiative indirectly targets rural communities through planners, researchers and extension staff. On the contrary, an approach that directly brings rural farming communities as key stakeholders with others is necessary. This is because the National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS) goal is to have demand driven extension services provision (GOU 2000)16, something possible when rural farming communities have capacity to clearly articulate their demands.
Universities have a role to play in engaging with communities in development through provision and generation of knowledge and information and the RUFORUM clearly articulates intervention approaches needed for this purpose. We propose to strengthen capacity of Makerere University to transition from outreach to engagement through research and graduate training in a multi-partner framework that enhances synergies and lesson learning to improve relevance and impact of University based interventions. Engagement in this context seeks to assure the ensuing true partnership between Makerere University and several other critical stakeholders (research, farming communities and extension services) to enhance development of the country.
Makerere University has developed and released improved crop varieties (cowpea, soybeans, tomatoes and highland bananas with support from FORUM and RUFORUM); it has also undertaken research on farmer field schools, an innovative group-based learning process that brings together concepts and methods from agroecology, experiential education and community development;and student internship programmes at farm level as well as on farm research by various graduate students. In spite of these success cases, there is need to intensify the lessons learned as well as best practices to increase the impact of universities to address development challenges. The University thus has a repertoire of experience in these group learning and participatory research and learning including the use of action research. In the context of this intervention, action research will be used as a reflective process of progressive problem solving in which the project works with stakeholders in teams to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. Action research will be used to improve strategies, practices, and knowledge of the environments within farming communities. Specifically we will strengthen value chains functionality by identifying and addressing constraints using multi-institutions with targeted investments in selected communities. From the learning experiences, lessons will be drawn to improve the University‟s relevance in ARD as well as contribute to RUFORUM‟s vision of seeing universities that are proactively engaged in development processes and practice. From this research, we will establish mechanisms for long-term engagement in agriculture development that strengthens research, training and technology diffusion and uptake.