20 May 2008

“Bona Bagagawale” is a Miscarriage of Progress

The recent launch of Bona Bagagawale (prosperity for all) programme and the glamorous publicity it has attracted in the local media following the President’ mobilisational tour around the country has raised a storm of false expectation. Utterly false, because it is inconceivable how a paltry target of only 30 “model farmers” per Sub County will transform agriculture; a way of life for nearly 90% of Uganda’s human population.

Ugandans may recall with embarrassment, how Government realized too late, that it could not proceed with the envisaged Bona Bagagawale because it hadn’t thought through how is would be implemented. Indeed, it was a subject of speculation for a while that Bona Bagagawale would dish money to farmers through SACCOs. This however hit a snag after realizing that there was no legislation to regulate the operations of SACCOs.

To massage the embarrassment and with public patience running out, Government has opted to restructure NAADS and use it as a conduit for dispersing Bona Bagagawale funds – albeit through a procedurally, ethically, and technically bizarre process: targeting 30 “model farmers” in every sub county! I want to put it to government that the proposed “model farmer” scheme will achieve nothing beyond catalyzing rural inequality, social discord, and economic marginalization.

There is obviously the question of how the 30 farmers will be selected and how this approach will interface with farmer groups that have been receiving support under the NAADS. Over the last seven years, millions of rural farmers have organized themselves into legal entity groups – dully registered with, and recognized by Local Governments. These farmer institutions have served as a forum for collective action (planning, production, marketing, and others) and have been providing matching funds for agricultural extension and other rural development programmes. Unless the 30 members are selected from same farmers group (which I doubt that it will be the case), rest assured that the approach will trigger farmer individualism instead of collectivism; farmer conflict rather than collaboration; resentment and destructive sabotage in place of mutual support.

In essence, the “model farmer” approach will spell absolute doom for rural farmer institutions which NAADS has progressively empowered over the last seven years! It will be a villainous finale to the cooperative movement which Government has attempted to suffocate beginning in the late 1980s; a regrettable miscarriage of progress that has made with farmer institutional building in Uganda!

It is disturbing that it is NAADS itself, though understandably under undue political pressure from Government, which will undermine and short-circuit its own farmer institutional models by promoting an obnoxious “model farmer” approach. It has been coerced into abdicating its well-thought out principles in favour of a cosmetic, highly risky development paradigm. Iam actually surprised that none of the NAADS managers whom I regard very highly, have resigned given all these policy swings. Is there greater pain than seeing a distressed mother forced to slay and burry her own child alive?

Moreover, Government’s abhorrence of all modes of farmer sensitization will stifle opportunities for strengthening entrepreneurship among the farming community, implying that Bona Bagagawale investments could go down the drain before catalyzing sustainable businesses. Judging from the entadikwa experience, and since its “business as usual”, chances are “model” farmers will go on a “free holiday”- courtesy of the generosity of NRM regime.

The impeding Bona Bagagawale fiasco, on top of other previous high profile embarrassing Government failures (entandikwa, Global Fund, etc) questions the appropriateness of budget support or basket-funding regimes through which development partners allow government full discretion to allocate resources as it feels. It has indeed become abundantly clear that government may not yet be ready to make the right investment decisions and that therefore a return to project mode donor financing would be a better option for Uganda.

With a heavily compromised parliament incapable of checking the excesses of an errant Government; a debt burden per capita that is soaring every year without tangible returns, and a President who has intensified his nationwide mobilization for a doomed Bona Bagagawale programme, Ugandans and their posterity should brace for the worst!