Okao Andre Kagwa

Uganda is considered a food-secure nation, with most people having a varied diet and enough food to eat. The country’s agricultural potential is among the best in Africa, enabled by favourable conditions that include low-temperature variability, fertile soils, and two rainy seasons over much of the country. A wide range of agricultural products is harvested here, including coffee, tea, beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, cotton, millet, sorghum, groundnuts, plantains, sugar, tobacco, edible oils, livestock, and fish. The sector is also a significant source of livelihood for many Ugandans. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) estimates this number to be about 70% of the country’s working population.  While 80% of Uganda’s land is arable and can feed over 20 million people, only 35% is currently being cultivated. Furthermore, producers are yet to realise maximum agricultural productivity in the region owing to challenges at all stages of the production and supply chain that impede sector growth. They include shortage of agricultural credit; inefficient use of or limited access to quality fertilisers and seeds; insufficient knowledge of modern production practices; a lack of irrigation infrastructure; poor post-harvest handling practices; inadequate storage facilities; an absence of quality packaging capabilities; the scarcity of all-weather feeder roads in rural areas; steep freight costs; and a complicated land tenure system, among several others.  In addition, the risks posed by climate change looms large over the sector, bringing with it unprecedented and extreme climatic events. These climatic events are occurring with increasing frequency and threatening natural resources and their management, food security, food loss and human health, the sustainability of infrastructure, and the potential to impede the country’s development trajectory. In this conversation, we examine some of these challenges and the role and impact of digitalisation in overcoming them .
In Conversation With

Okao Andre Kagwa

Okao Andre Kagwa hails from the Lango sub-region in northern Uganda, considered the country’s grain basket and a significant contributor to the GDP. He is the Head of IT at the Lango Region Rice Growers, a cooperative society that works with over 20,000 farmers. Born in a family that practices subsistence farming, he was encouraged to pursue education, which allowed him to perceive farming in his region in a different light. His current line of work makes it possible for him to learn better agricultural practices, encourage the adaptation of modern technologies, and promote easier ways for farmers to enhance their livelihood. He asserts that it would otherwise have been his unfulfilled dream to not be able to see his community transform from subsistence to commercial agriculture, where growth and livelihood improvement is realised.

Civilisation began with agriculture and remains important despite humanity changing significantly. Every country depends on agriculture, in one way or another. The sector is the primary source of several raw materials and provides for each individual’s daily needs; it provides employment opportunities to many countries and facilitates international trade among nations. These and many other reasons inspire him to be involved in the sector as best as he can.

Co-operative societies like the Lango Region Rice Growers play a central role in increasing farm productivity by providing farmers with better access to productivity-enhancing tools, technologies, and information. What is your observation on the significance and impact of such societies in improving the smallholder farmers’ quality of life?

I see cooperative societies like ours have great potential to improve smallholders’ quality of life through employment opportunities in the private sector. They offer farmers access to crop financing. Primarily when farmers are organised in groups, banks can easily engage with them to provide loan facilities, allowing them to improve their production capacity. These farmers also have access to high-quality inputs.Farmers organised in groups or cooperative societies have the power to attract funders or donors to give them aid to increase their production capacity or bring services closer to the farmers they work with. Cooperative societies also have higher marketing or bargaining power that allows the farmers to sell the produce at a relatively better price than other individual farmers. In turn, the high turnover rate supports some of the activities run by cooperative societies. The operations of cooperative societies also enable them to improve the quality of life of smallholders associated with them. Development partners are more inclined to train and facilitate skill development among these producers, making them understand some of the best agronomic practices they might need to adapt to improve their production capacity.

Digitalisation for agriculture (D4Ag) is enabling African governments and non-governmental organisations to empower farmers with modern farming practices, digital tools, and access to high-quality inputs and various other services that together promote overall economic growth. How do you think digital adoption has improved agriculture productivity and farmer livelihoods? How does it support employment opportunities for women and youth in particular?

Digitalisation for agriculture is not yet a common practice in Uganda, but it plays a prominent role in improving agricultural productivity in some other countries. With D4Ag, farmers use digital farming to get accurate insights and make decisions that will yield success. The adoption of digital agriculture provides an effective way to make farms sustainable, productive, and more profitable. There’s access to real-time information, and structured and convenient farm record-keeping software, and farmers can better manage risks and uncertainties using digital platforms. Digitisation is an excellent source of employment, especially for women and youth. They get employed directly, for example, as data collectors, database managers, system administrators, or data analysts. As a result, they can improve socio-economic well-being. One way or the other, you’re able to find they can earn a living out of that and can push life in the best way possible. The increased adaptation and usage of digital services can significantly improve yield and income for farmers. Stakeholder engagement at different levels is ideal for mobilising and sensitising the communities to adopt the technology. Also, capacity building for farmers, trainers, co-operative societies, and implementation partners needs to be done here. There’s a need to increase access to digital platforms for the farmers, and public-private partnerships are inevitable to stabilise network connectivity or make the relevant software accessible to end-users.

What are your expectations from technologies that enable your business? What gaps have you observed and what challenges need to be addressed?

Digital technologies can significantly improve the sector's performance, and this is only possible if they are adopted and effectively used by the beneficiaries. These technologies will improve the management and decision-making processes.Decision-making in an organization becomes easier provided you have the correct information, and digital platforms are crucial to help provide real-time information. When you have the necessary information, at least you can know where you are making this decision and for what reason. Additionally, these digital technologies also readily help in the optimization of record-keeping. A few clicks are needed to find the information accessible when you want. Compare this to maintaining box files here and there, to file information, for example, farm records, and you find these bulky and require more maintenance. With digital technologies, I expect it to improve the marketing processes if effectively adopted and used. You will be able to keep your customers informed, and you can get timely information about market prices, and connect with the right person at the right time, too. The whole process then becomes pleasant. However, I must say that they still need to maintain an information system to make these technologies work. These systems will be able to provide real-time data that will enable the identification of needs and tracking of the responses by different stakeholders engaged in the process. We have to track them even at the lowest level possible, especially as far as service delivery in the agricultural sector is concerned. Currently, no mechanism can systematically identify vulnerabilities or needs among farmers or individuals. We can track stakeholders' responses to this according to the production value chain and monitor the well-being outcomes of the whole process. Now, this would work out best if only the stakeholders institute a farmer tracking tool that can support and strengthen their efforts, to be able to know if farmers are receiving agricultural grants or other benefits they are entitled to.

As a tech professional in the agriculture space, what role do you see technology playing in your organisation in the future?

I do see technology playing a crucial role in the agricultural sector. As I mentioned, it provides access to information, allows easy decision-making because of the real-time data, and enhances record-keeping. Technology enables farmers to manage risks and uncertainties. For instance, weather-based alerts triggered using ICT can inform them to understand the weather in advance and decide on a time to plant. Such information guides farmers before taking any risk during crop production, which directly improves crop productivity and their return on investment.

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