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Uganda's GPS stock-take

Census enumerators like Linda Chandiru have collected agricultural data in each of Uganda's 80 districts (Pius Sawa)
Census enumerators like Linda Chandiru have collected agricultural data in each of Uganda's 80 districts
Pius Sawa

Walking around the edge of a maize field, with eyes glued to what looks like a mobile phone, the young and smartly dressed Linda Chandiru seems a little out of place. However, Chandiru is one of over 900 Ugandan census enumerators who have put down their measuring tapes and compasses, and are gathering data using handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. Over a twelve-month period and spanning two planting seasons, more than 36,000 farmers are being surveyed in Uganda's latest agricultural census.

The use of the GPS devices in Uganda has provoked mixed reactions. In some areas, there has been suspicion about the purpose of the data collection, and fears that the government might be planning to seize land. But Shaban Muyinda, one of Chandiru's farmers from Mukono district close to Kampala, is more optimistic: "We hope the government will now give us help, because now we have given them information about our needs," he says. His hope reflects the government's own view: lack of reliable estimates for crop production is often quoted as a significant challenge to effective agricultural planning and policy development.

Data collection

During the census process, Chandiru visits Muyinda's farm on two occasions. On the first, she measures the total area of his land as well as the area planted to each crop. "I go to the starting point of the garden, and move clockwise. I hold the GPS device away from me to enable it to get the signals from the satellite and it then shows me a map of where I've walked," she explains. The second visit is to gather data on what crops Muyinda has produced. A questionnaire is also used to gather more detailed information; more than 80 questions span a range of subjects from farming methods and irrigation to extension and banking services. Different questionnaires are used for household and large scale farms.

Shaban Muyinda hopes that by collecting information, the government will be able to respond to farmers' needs (Pius Sawa)
Shaban Muyinda hopes that by collecting information, the government will be able to respond to farmers' needs
Pius Sawa

In using GPS technology for collecting agricultural data, Uganda is following the example of a number of African countries including Mozambique; now it is sharing its experience with others. In November 2008 a delegation from Botswana came to observe Uganda's use of the technology, in preparation for its own agricultural census. "We took them through how we are doing it and they visited some farms, to see how the area measurement is undertaken," says Seth Mayinza, who leads the census for the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS).

Investing in information

Sixteen billion Ugandan shillings (c.US$9.5 million) have been allocated to fund the census process over a five year period, including preparatory stages, data collection, analysis and dissemination of results. Mayinza is convinced, however, that the expense can be justified, citing the 2008 national livestock census, which has been used to establish a livestock database in all districts. "This helps the district veterinary officers plan for their areas, including things like drugs for animals. It helps traders to know how many cows are in which place, and also the farmers themselves and traders to know, 'If I want cows, where do I go?'" The livestock census not only gathered information on livestock numbers, but also farm infrastructure and equipment, milk production and sales, beehives and honey production, and livestock-related employment by gender.

Using GPS equipment has greatly increased the efficiency and accuracy of data gathering (Pius Sawa)
Using GPS equipment has greatly increased the efficiency and accuracy of data gathering
Pius Sawa

Analysis of the agricultural census data, which will begin in 2010, is certain to create new challenges for UBOS, and Mayinza is quick to acknowledge that even collecting the information from all of Uganda's 80 districts has not been easy. Payments are made to supervisors and enumerators by electronic transfer from the central bank to the respective commercial banks where enumerators and supervisors have accounts. This has meant that bank accounts have to be updated when survey staff leave and new ones are recruited. Heavy rain, poor roads and the need to walk long distances have added to the challenge, especially given the need for enumerators to visit farms more than once. But, emphasises Bernard Muhwezi, a census team leader, the value of the project is not just in providing information that could guide fertilizer distribution or subsidy provision: just as importantly the census gives farmers a voice.

"The farmer will have a voice, because information about him will be clear and will be documented," Muhwezi explains. "He could use this as evidence that his situation is bad, that the soil has become worse, that the degradation is for real, and is not just talk. From there it would be taken up, hopefully by those that are donors or partners or NGOs. If they would use this information, this voice, and hear where the call is loudest, then they would be able to intervene."

Date published: September 2009

 

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The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

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