Indeed the Ugandan government recognizes that information is vital for all kinds of programs such as the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA). Given the central role that Agriculture plays in Ugandan societies, it is very important to share the role that ICTs play in bridging the agricultural divide. Generally, the youth countrywide have not been involved in many agricultural activities and yet they are the biggest users of ICTs like mobile phones, radio, Television and social media like web 2.0 tools.
Apac, a district in Northern Uganda has farmers who are mainly peasants with relatively low input and technology skills levels in Agriculture. They do not specialize and own on average about 3-5 acres per household. They also use rudimentary tools like hand hoes although there is a high rate adoption of animal tractor technologies (Oxen). They grow a variety of crops ranging from mangoes, cotton, simsim, groundnuts and cassava.
Mr. Gilbert Egwel a 25 year old native of Apac and a small scale fruit farmer from Akere parish in Maruzi county uses ICTs innovatively to improve on his agricultural produce is a unique way. His passion for agriculture started way back at college. Owing to the fact that his family practiced agriculture, it was almost obvious that Gilbert would follow in the footsteps of his parents who already had a big plot of Land. With only 50 grafted mangoes and 60 grafted citrus (Lemon) seedlings, Gilbert started his agricultural journey immediately after high school. He opted for fruit growing (mangoes and Lemon); mainly because of the favorable weather and the increased demand for juice extraction from local juice manufacturers and wine industries in Kampala the capital of Uganda.
He currently owns a fruit seedling nursery bed and a number of mature fruit trees on approximately fifteen acres of land which he bought from some of his savings. Having listened to an agricultural radio talk show on “Nursery beds” that had been broadcast over Radio Apac 92.9 FM a community Radio during one of its agricultural programmes, He was inspired to invest in fruit trees, an idea he had nurtured before and one that had been ignored by most farmers in Apac.
At the onset of the first rains in March, with his acquired 50 grafted mangoes and 60 grafted citrus(Lemon) which cost him 3000shillings each (Approximately One Euro) from Mr. Sam Akol a friend of his who already owned a fruit nursery and an employee at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Kawanda Gilbert planted his first fruit trees.
In 2006, both the Mango and lemon trees which Gilbert had planted developed fruits and he financially benefited from the initiative. However, Gilbert had the urge to plant more fruit trees but was faced with a big challenge of the prices at which these trees were being sold to him by NARO (3000shs each). He then decided to start a fruit seedling nursery bed to raise many seedlings for planting and for sell since very many farmers had shown interest in his fruits from his first harvest. This he did by mobilizing children around his village to collect more local mango and lemon seeds from the neighborhood during the peak seasons of the fruits which fall between June-August and November-December respectively every year in Northern Uganda.
One year later in 2007, Gilbert planted 100 seedlings of local mangoes (locally known as Ayembe) and 50 seedlings of lemon (Acungwa) using banana fibers as potting bags for the seedlings. After grafting his seedling, most of them failed to grow. This was a frustrating experience for him. However, he greatly gained from the nursery bed which had over 500 seedlings. And from the profits, he bought better potting materials from Kampala.
How Gilbert Uses ICTs Innovatively
In 2005 when the Kubere Information Centre (KIC) a telecentre in Apac started airing its radio agricultural talk shows to the community over ‘Radio Apac’, Gilbert learnt from one of the shows how to set up a nursery bed and manage a fruit farm. The agricultural radio talk shows are supported by the technical Centre of Rural and agricultural cooperation CTA. With the skills gained and knowledge acquired through the agricultural radio talk shows, Gilbert was able to construct a good temporaly nursery bed where he planted over 1000 seedlings. Today, Gilbert is the sole supplier of grafting materials to the team in National Agricultural Research Organisation(NARO) – Kawanda whom he contacts with his mobile phone a Sony Ericssion that cost him 90,000Ugx (Approx. 30Euros). He also sells fruits to the Apac population by taking advantage of local markets days.
He sometimes gets paid through his Mobile phone through a service branded as “Mobile Money” by Mobile Telephone Network-MTN (Uganda) to enable mobile transfer of money among its subscribers. Sometimes Gilbert receives his payments through his local bank account from STANBIC bank the only bank in the entire Apac district. With the mobile phone, Gilbert says that he has also subscribed to MTN Market price updates to receive weekly updates on market prices.
Kubere Information Centre (KIC) has been a very important source of fruit information for Gilbert. He has been able to do his internship at this Telecentre as well as find very useful literature from CTA’s Agricultural publications like “Soil fertility management-Agrodok series No.2, Fruit growing in the tropics-Agrodok series No.5, Marketing for small scale producers- Agrodok series No.26, Propagating and tree planting--Agrodok series No.19. He has also been invited as a panelist to the radio talk shows on “Radio Apac” during its Agricultural programs to share his expertise in fruit farming. Gilbert also takes advantage of the Thurdsay “Business News”pullout which is mainly dedicated to Agro-business from the New vision (http://www.newvision.co.ug) a national newspaper in Uganda. He accesses the Newspaper from Kubere Information centre (KIC).
Having attended a web 2.0 training early this year that took place from 15th to 17th February 2010 in Apac facilitated by Ms. Ednah Karamagi from Busoga rural Open Source Development Initiative (BROSDI),Gilbert was able join two online platforms of Facebook and twitter (Twitter: @gegwel and Facebook: Egwel Gilbert). He says that this could be a starting point in tapping into a bigger and wider market out of Uganda.
From the small profits that Gilbert makes, he has been able to pay his tuition for two years at Gulu University in Uganda for a Bachelor degree in Development Studies. The various ICTs he uses have made marketing of his seedlings and fruits cost effective; Gilbert has built a big clientele who always contact him on a phone for orders and supplies. Evidently, the community radio, telecentre and mobile phone are the most used ICT tools by Gilbert.
Despite the various successes Gilbert has made out of this fruit production, he is still faced with a number of challenges;
His limited skill in the use and application of ICTs for agriculture. Despite the fact that Gilbert is aware of the potential and the role that ICTs can play in Agriculture, he lacks the necessary skills that can enable him to maximally tap into this potential. However, with the trainings that Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) has offered through KIC with support from CTA, Gilbert has gained several skills on how to use the internet for email, how to search for information using Google search engine and knowledge of how to use web 2.0 tools for development. These trainings include but are not limited to; “The Lango forums of e-agriculture”, “web 2.0 tool training” and “The agricultural radio talk shows” that Gilbert has attended.
Poor infrastructure such as the roads, processing facilities and stores are frustrating. Gilbert has to sometimes count on the local market within Apac by taking advantage of the local Market days within and around Apac.
“The only solution to all the agricultural related problems we face is access to the right information at the right time” says Gilbert. He acknowledges that information is so powerful to transform any difficult situation. Using ICTs meaningfully and for their right purpose can reduce on production costs.
Farmers must learn to specialize in fewer areas of production on a large scale so as to reap from comparative advantage and economies of scale.
Gilbert’s dream is to start a juice processing project to add value to his fruit as well as employ more youth within his village to improve on their standards of living. He also hopes to use his trees by setting up bee hives for Honey production. Gilbert encourages other young farmers to have self initiatives and integrate the use of ICT if they want to reduce their farming cost and become successful and model farmers within their respective villages.
- Joseph K. Mukibi, 2001. Agriculture in Uganda. Vol II Uganda: Fountain Publishers limited
- ASDI, http://www.wougnet.org/Profiles/asdiug.html
- Ed Verheij, 2006. Fruit growing in the tropics. Agrodok Series No. 5 Wageningen: Digigrafi, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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