Uganda: Maize Ban Should Help Us Rethink Agricultural Extension Services

On March 5, the Kenyan Government issued a ban on the importation of maize from Uganda. The decision, according to the head of Kenyan Agriculture and Food Authority, stemmed from their findings on the safety of food imports to Kenya that revealed maize from Uganda and Tanzania contains substances that cause cancer. This decision has attracted an unprecedented response from some Ugandan legislators, who proposed a ban on agricultural imports from Kenya in retaliation. Whereas the need to protect Ugandan traders involved in maize export is understandable, our legislators should become more proactive to deal with the root cause of the problem and save us from future troubles.

The biggest challenge for small holder farmers in Uganda is limited access to agricultural extension services, whose components, according to the National Agricultural Extension Policy, include advisory services, quality controls, marketing and access to inputs.

According to a study conducted by ACODE in 2018 to assess capacities of ‘Local Governments for Local Economic Development, limited access to agricultural extension services was one of the constraints to increased agricultural production in local governments. The impact of limited access to extension services as highlighted in the ACODE’s study is buttressed by a 2019 study conducted by FAO, WFP and IFPAD, which revealed that maize farmers incur losses during harvest, drying and storage.

The study noted that maize is dried on uncovered ground, at times spread on wet courtyards and at the farm level, which causes grain discolouration, contamination with foreign matter, termite damage, mould and debris. It was also revealed that during on-farm storage, losses are caused by insect damage, mould and aflatoxin contamination, insect frass, debris accumulation, rodent infestation, termite attack and discolouration related to poor drying, inadequate storage conditions and lack of storage capacity.

Another fundamental issue unearthed in the study was the issue of quality/standards of the produce. The study established that farmers had no awareness of or regards for standards as set by Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). While most farmers may be merely ignorant about standards, others are simply dishonest. Some farmers adulterate their produce in the hope of maximising profits.

In my village, I have seen farmers mix their sim-sim with sand in an attempt to increase quantity and get more money from sales. This is where the problem lies and where the focus should be. If our maize is infested with aflatoxin, it means perhaps our farmers did not get adequate supports – advice, inputs and equipment – in basic agronomic practices or there were no quality controls, which are critical components of extension services. This should get us thinking about loopholes in our Agricultural Extension Policy and System.