Q&A: Sustainable Farming Technology Will Improve Yields in Uganda

Q&A: Sustainable Farming Technology Will Improve Yields in Uganda

At the opening panel of the ICT for Agriculture 2013 conference (ICT4ag13) in Kigali, Rwanda, executive director Michael Hailu said that agriculture in Africa employs 65 percent of the labor force and contributes to 62 percent of the gross domestic product.

However, according to Hailu, Africa imports approximately $50 billion in food products a year.

“With abundant water and land, there is no reason for Africa to import so much food,” said Hailu.

That statement is one of the topmost reasons why the Integrated Community Efforts for Development (ICOD) Action Network is working to bring technology to farmers in Uganda in order to increase production and sustainability.

“I was inspired by my belief that lasting solutions can be achieved when developed from within communities and by communities,” said ICOD founder, Michael Ahabwe.

In an interview with AFKInsider, Ahabwe discusses new training for Ugandan farmers, ICOD Action Network ICT efforts, water shortage affects on farmers and what his organization is doing to help.

AFKInsider: Why did you start the ICOD Action Network?

Ahabwe: I started ICOD Action Network because I wanted get involved in solving my community’s most pressing challenges like HIV/AIDS and food insecurity. We currently have several key program areas that include HIV/AIDS prevention and education, housing, water and sanitation, ICT for farmers, food security and environmental conservation.

AFKInsider: ICOD focuses a lot on water supply, how does a lack of water supply affect households and the business of rural farmers?

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Ahabwe: I think lack of water supply greatly affects livelihoods of rural farmers. In instances where people have to walk five kilometers — three  miles —to get water (safe or unsafe), they are kept away from what would be normal family chores and their farming — which I think in the long run affects their livelihoods. Family heads are able to concentrate on supporting their families when they have water close to their homes.  They can engage in small businesses in their localities, join local self help groups and local income savings groups when they are sure of water availability in their homes.

AFKInsider: In the ICT for Farmers program, what are ‘information agents’ and how do they work to teach and get technology skills to farmers?

Ahabwe:  The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) program for rural farmers was implemented using a solar powered Internet Center. ICOD Action Network partners with farming communities in an information-sharing program that provides instruction in ICT to elected “information agents” from each group.

Information agents are training to retrieve relevant information — focused on, but not limited to — agriculture, market access and prices, disease and pest control methods, weather patterns, etc. Information Agents have actively taken part in transforming their communities, led training of fellow farmers and acted as links between the organization and their communities.

AFKInsider: What is the importance of tech skills for farmers in rural Uganda?

Ahabwe: Technology skill improvement is one of the best approaches to improve productivity and efficiency in Ugandan rural farmers. However, in rural Uganda, most people do not have easy access to information that could drastically change their lives, nurture technical skills, and serve as a critical capacity-building tool for farming communities. Skills like these have helped improve farmers’ adaption of modern farming practices and increase use of environmental farming methods, as well as fostering farmer-to-farmer communication, which is very important in transforming rural Uganda farmers.

AFK Insider: What are some other tech or innovative projects implemented by ICOD which increase water accessibility in the Ugandan community?

Ahabwe: ICOD Action Network operates in a dry-belt where it’s very hard to get clean water for drinking and domestic use. Almost 91.2 percent of households don’t have access to drinking water and spend between 30 minutes to 90 minutes walking to the nearest water source. The burden of fetching drinking water from outdoor sources falls disproportionately on girls and women. Girls often have to walk long distances to fetch water in the early morning, which greatly contributes to school dropouts. Many women and girls become victims of physical attacks and sexual violence as they travel long distances to collect water.

We believe that providing clean and safe water to vulnerable communities like victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a foundation for healthier living, improving girls’ school attendance, and helps reduce physical attacks on women and girls as they walk long distance to collect water.

We’ve been constructing water tanks for the past five years to improve their access to clean water to their homes. In 2008, we partnered with a local organization to make a simple water purifier for several schools and households that had no access to clean water. The water purifier project didn’t last, however, because of lack of funds to buy filters and buckets needed.