As the MUIIS project progresses into its first full season of providing satellite data-enabled extension and advisory services to its customers, July 3rd to 7th will be an action-packed week in Kampala.
Between 100 and 150 managers and leaders of Agricultural Cooperatives, Farmer Organisations, and Commodity Associations from 50 districts of Uganda’s agricultural regions will be the beneficiaries of the event. They will be undergoing a series of professional, technological, business, governance and institutional training and capacity building activities that will position them as providers of ICTs for agriculture services, enable them better manage their members, and equally compete with in the international market.
Following on two of its design principles – multi-tiered capacity building and anchorage on groups and coops, the event builds on series of on-going implementation activities of MUIIS for the past twenty-two months. The capacity development principle of MUIIS has two main components. The first component involves the training and resourcing of MUIIS Service Agents (MSAs) to be able to reach the communities with the MUIIS project and its products. Under this component, several individual and community training activities have been organised.
This workshop focuses on the second component of the capacity development principle that will lead to the operationalisation of the group anchorage principle. It aims at strengthening the capacity of the cooperatives and farmer organisations (institutional and governance) for the business of ICTs for agriculture. It involves training on the role of ICTs in agriculture, the ongoing development of ICT infrastructure to empower the institutions, the production of digital and print materials that the organisations could use to reach their members; the promotion of gender-sensitive services of ICTs in agriculture, and the professionalization of these institutions to be able take up the ICTs for agriculture business at the end of the project period for sustainability. Once this is achieved, it is expected that the principle of anchoring the business on groups and cooperatives becomes easy to operationalised.
The principle of working through the farmer organisations and cooperatives is based on the fact that subscription to ICTs for agriculture services over the years by individual farmers has been a nightmare. While affordable, accessible, and good quality seeds, fertilisers, and agro-chemicals, are seen as vital for improving productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers, timely and accurate information services to use these inputs are often overlooked. Farmers, therefore, will do everything possible to pay and acquire tangible inputs in preparation for the farming season. However, paying for intangible information services and products is a challenge. It takes innovative models and approaches for this to work under few situations. Hence, from the start, the foundation of MUIIS has been on reaching out to groups and cooperatives through their leaders and managers to understand the value of the business. The project works with the Ugandan National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) of over 3 million members and the Ugandan Cooperative Alliance (UCA) of over 1 million members under the oversight of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF).
The approach of working with groups and cooperatives is to encourage subscription to the bundled information products majorly through groups and cooperatives. Through this, the cooperatives and associations will benefit from subsidised agricultural inputs market. Examples include access to credit and loans in collaboration with financial institutions to address other social issues in addition to the agricultural production. Linkages with fertiliser and agro chemical manufacturing companies to access subsidised inputs for production. Access to drought tolerant seeds through the project’s machinery. Coordinated and well managed approach to aggregators such that farmers outputs reach the optimum value at the market including the reduction of postharvest losses.
CTA initiated MUIIS project with six other partners was launched in October 2015. Ever since the project has been progressing smoothly with its implementation. A user needs assessment was conducted and the establishment of a baseline data against which M&E could take place has been undertaken successfully. A number of frameworks have been developed for guiding the implementation of the project. A network of 184 MUIIS Service Agents (MSAs) has been established and over 60,000 farmers have been digitally profiled into the project database. The MUIIS Service Bundle, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) has been built and currently being tested with about 100 farmers and MSAs. The MUIIS initiative has received ample media coverage including radio, newspaper and televesion coverage in the Netherlands, local television coverage in Uganda, an on-going exercise by VPRO Media to produce a documentary on the project on how computer robotics and artificial intelligence can improve agriculture, and the recent recognition of the MUIIS project by the New Vision for Development of the World Economic Forum (WEF) as an initiative that is inclusive especially by its gender lens in the design.