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January 06, 2012

The need for educated people to take up farming

by Michael J. Ssali

One of the reasons some people despise farming is that the majority of farming households in Uganda may be categorised as poor.

Most of us are not even farmers by choice. Due to lack of anything else to do, we have to live off the land where we have our homes whether we are good farmers or not. In some cases it is the land on which we live that is too small for us to carry out successful farming.

In other cases, the soil is exhausted and we lack the knowledge or the capacity to replenish it.

Lack of capital is another barrier to successful farming, especially for those that would like to engage in such enterprises as poultry or animal husbandry. But it is also true that we have some very successful farmers out there in the rural areas that would not even consider taking up any other job.

Joseph Nkandu, executive director of Nucafe (National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises), believes that for as long as farming is shunned by the well educated people, it will continue to be largely conceived as an occupation for the poor. He says there is a need for a new generation of farmers capable of blending scientific knowledge and entrepreneurial skills for farming to become a paying venture.

"Even in school, agriculture is regarded as a science subject," he says, "and indeed that's what it is. So it must be practiced by well educated people who look at farming with an entrepreneurial mind and are capable of broadening it beyond the farm; by taking the commodity value chain approach, mapping and judging at what level they can make more money."

Nkandu is a breed of agricultural scientists and social entrepreneurs with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree from Makerere and a Masters of Business Administration Degree in Social Entrepreneurship and Management from the Catholic University of Milan, Italy, and despite the fairly prestigious qualifications he holds, he is continuing with coffee farming. He has 60 acres of land at Bunjakko village, Buwama Sub-county in Mpigi District most of which is now already under coffee. He says the market for any form of coffee is not our biggest challenge but rather Africa's entrepreneurship and institutional deficit.

"There is need to institutionalise entrepreneurship especially in the agricultural enterprises beginning with families so that generations after generations go on producing agricultural products, amassing experience and expertise, a practice that has not been here in Uganda and Africa as a whole," Nkandu further says. "The first institution should be the family and the business rotating around the family before expanding it to the community."

Ever since he got that land in Bunjakko, Nkandu and his wife Eva, who is a medical doctor, have been encouraging neighbouring farmers to grow coffee. "That's how the entire village has now become an island of coffee," he said proudly.

A well educated farmer is in a better position to practice scientific farming practices which is key to getting bigger yields. He is likely to keep book records and to search for better markets for his commodity. Governments in Africa must create an environment that fosters a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among farmers.

Nkandu's advice for educated people in well paying jobs is that they should use their savings to acquire land and become farmers because, according to him, the economic future of our country lies in promoting agricultural innovation and entrepreneurship.

Prof Geoffrey Mrema presented a paper with striking ideas recently to the General Assembly of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca) at the Imperial Resort Beach Hotel in Entebbe. Prof Mrema argued that universities and agricultural colleges should aim at producing commercial farmers instead of graduates who are merely job seekers.

He said, in East African countries, where there was a large contingent of European settler farmers, Egerton Agricultural College in Njoro, Kenya had been established in 1940 to train the sons and daughters of these farmers in the science and practice of farming. He added that a similar college, Gwebi College of Agriculture, was established in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) in the early 1950s by the then colonial government.

The essence of this was to train farmers in the two colleges in medium and large scale commercial farming. In addition to farm management courses, the programmes offered by these colleges had quite a heavy dose of land surveying and planning, agricultural engineering as well as agronomy and livestock production .courses. Most of the graduates from these colleges went on to work on their parents farms or established their own.

The Monitor

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