1. The Problem

Smallholder farmers (especially in Northern Uganda) basically encounter problems in three areas:
1) food and nutrition security
2) access to skills
3) limited access to land

Recent studies indicate that marginalized smallholder farmers, especially women, youth and youth and disabled persons, in Lango, Teso and Karamoja suffer from food insecurity due to limited access to quality seeds. Most farmers do not have an understanding of quality seeds, nor do they know where to access those. This explains why in many areas households are mainly planting grains instead of seeds resulting in low productivity, and affected food security.

Limited training opportunities

Access to market-oriented skills development for smallholder farmers is another obstacle. Civic Engagement Alliance conducted a skills assessment (2017) that showed that although skills training opportunities exist, for example offered by the Operation Wealth Creation, most farmers are not able to access these training opportunities. Main reasons for this limited access and participation are:
1) lack of information on the benefits of the training,
2) lack of transparency in decision making on who can benefit from the training, and
3) lack of effective training methods for the farmers, that meet the learning needs and expectations of the farmers.

Smallholder farmers in Uganda are not well organized to constitute strong associations that can work together to demand better services from the government. In addition, the process of legislating laws and formulating policies to take care of the interests of smallholder farmers lacks a systematic approach; the end result has been a multitude of provisions that are both contradictory and inconsistent. This was for example already the conclusion of the review of the existing Market Act (Cap 94, 2013) in 2018, that was reviewed by the Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC) and the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG). This harmonized the Markets Act and Local Government Act, in order to improve clarity of the regulations and authorities overseeing the implementation of both laws.

The legislative landscape in Uganda is not specifically in favor of civil society. An example of this is the Public Order Management Law, a civil society law that is heavily under debate in the country. It is argued by NGOs that the law is undermining constitutionalism and the rule of law, since this legislation infringes on freedom of speech and expression, freedom of thought, conscience and belief, freedom to assemble and to demonstrate peacefully and freedom of association. By means of this law, the inspector general of police or any delegated police officers has the power to decide on the holding of public assemblies and meetings. This law creates obstraints for groups of people such as smallholder farmers to organize dialogue meetings.

Another example is the section of the NGO Act (section 30(1)(a)), that determines the refusal of the registration of CSOs. Registration depends on a judgement whether or not the objectives of the CSO concerned are in contravention of the laws of Uganda. The NGO Bureau in Uganda is given the full power by this law to make the interpretation and judgement. With such a law in place, the registration of smallholder farmer’s groups is curtailed unless their objectives are well understood by the NGO Bureau.

Ultimately, the absence of a clear framework to support smallholder farmers over the years has greatly undermined smallholders to effectively engage in policy development. This has resulted into ad hoc engagements and made it difficult for civil society organizations to effectively influence policies that can enable local farmers to hold government and other stakeholders accountable.

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