Several cabbages growing in a garden.

A New Agricultural Extension Policy Takes Root in Uganda .

When a farmer’s crop is being destroyed by pests or contaminated after harvest, who can she turn to for help? In Uganda, extension agents are becoming better prepared to provide farmers with answers.

Agriculture is not an art; it is a science. Yet, when picturing a scientist, a farmer usually is not the image that comes to mind.

This creates an inherent tension: Farmers need to understand scientific best practices to be successful, but how can the latest research reach farmers who live in far-flung rural areas and may have had limited access to education?

For decades, the answer to this question has been the extension service. Public extension agents, often employed by governments or universities, serve as roving agriculture specialists who provide training and demonstrations to farmers. For example, extension agents might teach farmers how to test their soil and select the best fertilizer based on the results, or share information about the highest-quality seed varieties of a particular crop ahead of planting season.

Yet in Uganda, this fundamental part of the agriculture system was piecemeal and unorganized, with an understaffed public extension system and a mishmash of unregistered private and non-governmental extension agents. Part of the confusion was due to the lack of a centralized strategy or guidelines for extension. “I worked in the extension service at the local government level before becoming the director of agricultural extension services,” recalls Beatrice Byarugaba. “Because there was no policy at that time, each of us had to be resourceful and think of our own extension projects.”

Without enough guidance from the central level, most farmers only received extension services if they were lucky enough to have a motivated and creative extension agent. As a result, many farmers received no services at all.

The effect of this disorganization was serious: In Uganda, the average smallholder farmer produces only about 28 percent of the yields that are possible, according to Ms. Byarugaba, in large part because farmers do not have access to the information they need on agricultural best practices. Clearly, something needed to change.

“Agriculture is a knowledge-driven occupation. Farmers have to plant on time, control pests and diseases, and manage soil fertility. If information isn’t getting to farmers, there’s no way they can succeed.”

Milton Ogeda, chief of party of the Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Agriculture Activity

A New Focus on Extension in Uganda

Recognizing this need, Uganda’s cabinet created a new government agency in July 2015, the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services, tasked with creating a new national policy on extension. Staffed by a passionate team of agriculture and extension experts, the directorate immediately began working on the new policy. Two big challenges stood in their way.

The first challenge was to build consensus, a critical requirement, according to Patience Rwamigisa, commissioner for extension skills management. “One key finding of my Ph.D. work was that past extension reforms did not develop consensus, and as a result, stakeholders felt no sense of ownership and the policy was ignored,” said Mr. Rwamigisa.

The directorate was determined not to make the same mistake, and instead conducted extensive consultations with approximately 4,000 stakeholders from across Uganda, beginning in January 2016. To support these consultations, the directorate turned to the USAID-funded Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Agriculture (EEA) Activity, which provided funding and guidance.

Divide and Conquer

The second challenge was speed. In Uganda, like countless countries around the world, government policy usually moves slowly. “It can take years for policies to be developed,” said Ms. Byarugaba. But an agriculture policy that is stuck in bureaucratic limbo means millions of farmers denied critical resources, tools, and support to make their work easier. For the sake of Ugandan farmers, the directorate and the EEA Activity needed to move quickly.

To confront this challenge, the directorate and the EEA Activity took an innovative approach that they now promote as a best practice for policy development: developing the policy, implementation strategy, and other required documents simultaneously. The typical process would be to conduct stakeholder consultations, then develop the policy, then conduct the regulatory impact assessment, waiting for each step to be completed before beginning the next. Knowing this would take too long, the team decided to divide and conquer.

In tandem with the stakeholder consultations, a team led by the directorate drafted the national policy while an EEA consultant supported the drafting of the implementation strategy. This approach not only sped up the process, but also led to a more realistic and consensus-based policy because stakeholders were able to review drafts of the documents and give on-the-spot feedback during consultations.

Meanwhile, the EEA Activity could flag possible implementation issues and recommend revisions to the policy before it was finalized. Once complete drafts of the policy and strategy were ready, another EEA consultant moved quickly to complete the regulatory impact assessment and a third consultant created the budget, monitoring, and evaluation plan, enabling the directorate to make further tweaks to the draft policy and strategy based on these assessments.

Approximately one year after its formation — in record time — the directorate submitted the policy, strategy, and accompanying documents to the Ugandan cabinet secretariat. By October 2016, the cabinet had approved the National Agricultural Extension Policy and Strategy.

The pace is noteworthy. “The Extension Directorate in the Ministry of Agriculture has shown that we can work at speed,” remarked Joy Kabatsi, minister for animal industry. “I only hope that other directorates in the Ministry of Agriculture can learn from this directorate.”

An Extension Policy for the Whole Value Chain

The policy itself aims to create an extension service that is larger, better trained, and more coordinated. Since 2015, the extension service has hired an additional 1,750 personnel and plans to hire an additional 2,080 more. To equip agents with the skills they need, the policy includes an accreditation program for extension agents. It will also bolster university education, for example by adding a course in extension management to the end of scientific degree programs in fields like agronomy and entomology.

Regarding coordination, the new policy preserves Uganda’s pluralistic extension system — with actors from the public, civil society, and private sectors (like the village agents promoted under the Feed the Future Commodity Production and Marketing Activity) — but aims to harmonize service providers. All extension providers, both public and private, will report up to agents at the district level. The policy encourages farmers to organize as well, so that extension agents can work with many farmers at once rather than visiting individual farmers’ fields. Finally, the policy institutionalizes knowledge sharing between universities, research centers, and extension agents, for example by creating research advisory committees through which extension agents can suggest research topics and institutions can share the latest research with agents.

In addition to these changes, the policy includes a fundamental shift toward a value chain approach. Rather than simply helping farmers increase their yields, extension agents will also link farmers to market opportunities to make sure they can find buyers for their commodities. Agents will also encourage farmers in each region to specialize in specific crops. As farmers specialize, they will become more experienced at growing high-quality products, and extension agents will be able to give expert advice about the commodities in question. Moreover, this specialization will encourage the establishment of agribusinesses to provide processing, packaging, and other services that are tailored to the priority crops in the region.

The Next Step: Giving Teeth to the Policy

The policy establishes Uganda’s vision for a revitalized extension service. The next step is to make the policy enforceable under the law. A new law, the National Agriculture Extension Act, is expected to be completed by mid-2018. The law will incorporate incentives and requirements through a “carrot and stick” approach. For example, it will make the new accreditation program established under the policy into a mandatory requirement for all extension agents, and enable the deregistration of agents who do not meet the required standards and guidelines.


stakeholders consulted across Uganda


service extension personnel hired since 2015


of Uganda's population participates in agriculture sector

The purpose of all of this is to create a future in which farmers have the information they need and know who to turn to when something goes wrong. “While visiting a district extension office, I saw a farmer come in with pictures of a sick cow,” said Simon Peter Okiring, trade and policy officer for the EEA activity. “[He was] saying his cow had fallen sick and when they administered medicine they bought from a drug shop, the cow developed a very strange skin disease. The extension agent took the pictures to show to a vet, and promised to visit the farmer with the vet to look at the cow soon. This kind of support wasn’t happening before.”

As thousands of extension agents provide this kind of assistance to thousands of farmers across Uganda, it will go a long way toward increasing yields and improving the lives of the more than 60 percent of the population that farms. Said Commissioner Patience Rwamigisa, “If local governments commit to funding their extension services, I know that in the next five years, this country will change.”