Public sector extension, in both developed and developing countries, is undergoing major reforms. In Uganda, these reforms include privatization of funding, delivery of extension, and decentralization of authority to lower levels of government, including delegation to NGOs, farmer organizations, and other grassroots control (Bashaasha et al., 2011). The decentralization in Uganda has been characterized by a transfer of powers, functions, and responsibilities for planning and implementation of agricultural extension services from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries (MAAIF) to district local governments. MAAIF was left with the role of planning and policy formulation, regulatory functions, technical backstopping and training, setting standards for and monitoring performance of the agricultural sector, and managing funds of selected projects. Extension workers at the district level were put under the direction of the local district governments (Friis-Hansen and Kisauzi 2004).
A brief History
Following the agricultural policy reforms, the government has been implementing the Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture. One component of the plan is the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) program which goal is to increase market-oriented production through empowering farmers to demand and control extension services. NAADS is an innovative public-private extension approach, and the main components of this approach include decentralization, outsourcing, farmer empowerment, market orientation, and cost-recovery (Anderson, 2007). Under the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) Act , the public extension system was gradually phased out and replaced by a contract privatized system implemented by NAADS, a new statutory semiautonomous body under the MAAIF and implemented within a broader policy framework of a multi-sectorial Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA), decentralization, liberalization, and privatization (Mangheni 2007)
Regarding agricultural extension and advisory services, decentralization coincided with other reforms namely, civil service reform, privatization, and liberalization of service delivery, which attracted a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to offer services. NGOs supplemented the efforts of local governments and largely improved service delivery in the targeted areas. However, except for areas serviced by NGOs, the majority of the country does not readily access extension services, because districts are unable to cover the operational expenses. One particular aspect of agricultural extension in Uganda is the implementation of a private extension model found mostly in industrialized countries. Under the private model, the farmer is expected to pay some of the cost of extension with the hope that public outlays on extension will be reduced (Anderson and Crowder, 2000). While there is little evidence to date that small scale farmers can pay for extension services and improve their livelihoods, the financial sustainability of the system remains questionable.
Any government’s commitment to developing a viable and efficient agricultural extension system starts with the development of human capital to deliver extension advices and services to farmers. In Uganda, MAAIF had relied on a staff of 4,300 extension officers comprised of subject matter specialists, county extension coordinators, field extension workers and extension staff at the district institutes to implement its agricultural extension program. After the decentralization, this number was reduced to 2,000 (Nygaard et al. 1997:22) raising concerns about the government’s ability to extend services to a larger number of farmers. The current landscape of Uganda agricultural extension and advisory services is the result of many recovery policies implemented by the government over time to rehabilitate the country’s dwindling economy. These policies include but are not limited to: decentralization, privatization, liberalization, civil service reform program, unification of extension service, a modified Training and Visit system of extension, and modernization of agriculture (Mwanje & Duvel, 1998).