Government has attracted criticism for failing to provide adequate support towards agricultural research, the linchpin of the country’s economy.
Dr Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, the Director of National Agricultural Research Laboratories at Kawanda, near Kampala says that the facility has remained understaffed and has dilapidated buildings and outdated equipment that require refurbishment.
Tushemereirwe explained that buildings housing the research facility have remained the same since they were constructed in 1945, a time when there were fewer farmers with less problems requiring agricultural research.
He added that inadequate staffing means that the facility could only struggle to cope with the demand posed by the millions of farmers who require help with modern agriculture-related problems. He said the research facility has only 3 scientists assigned with value addition and 5 others in charge of soil; a number he said is abominably insufficient.
Tushemereirwe added that although they have managed to acquire some new machines over the years, they were inadequate. He asked government to provide more support to help the research facility refurbish its infrastructure and attract more personnel.
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The National Agricultural Research Organisation is the main body for guidance and coordination of all agricultural research activities in Uganda. It is a public institution, which was established by an act of Parliament, enacted in 2005. The research facility located at Kawanda has many units comprising a centre for agricultural research in biotechnology, food sciences, post-harvest and biological control unit among others.
It was not possible to readily establish how much money government allocates to the agricultural research facility but Matia Kasaija, the minister of State for Planning under whose docket Science and Technology falls has said that government would consider availing more money to the facility.
Maria Kiwanuka, the minister for Finance, Planning and Economic Development, recently said she had allocated 394 billion shillings to the agriculture sector for the new financial year. She, however, did not explain the reduction from the 585 billion shillings that government allocated the sector last year but mentioned the critical role, which the sector plays in the economy saying that it employs about 66 per cent of Uganda’s total labour force. Kiwanuka added that the vast majority of the country’s population directly and indirectly depend on it.
She observed that while agriculture is a private sector activity, government would continue to provide support towards its further development in research, seed multiplication and certification, and disease control.
Despite the challenges, President Yoweri Museveni last Friday said the agricultural research facility was the best in the region with some of the best trained biotechnology scientists in the world. He named the development of disease resistant variety of seeds as some of the innovations from the centre, which he said has relieved farmers of problems associated with farming such as pests and diseases.