Agricultural show exposes UCU’s science challenges

Solomon
Solomon Mwije, a lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences, attends to students at the stall during the expo in Jinja (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

BY ALEX TAREMWA

The 24th Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE)’s Source of the Nile National Agricultural and Trade show ended on July 17, at the Jinja Show Ground.

The show, organized under the theme “Promoting Sustainable Agricultural Land Management for Agricultural Transformation and Wealth Creation,” featured organisations that showcased their latest research and innovations in the sector, using improved technologies for better production, marketing and poverty eradication.

Uganda Christian University (UCU) was represented by the Faculty of Science and Technology, the Department of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, and the Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty.

Unlike other companies and institutions though, UCU did not have any tangible agricultural or scientific related models to showcase. The Civil Engineering stall mostly showcased brochures and copies of The Standard while the agriculturalists had a 15cm-glass table showing cereal pests and printed pictures of sick crops and six tins of ready-to-consume jam made by the students.

In the 2012-2018 strategic plan of UCU, the administration set its targets on harmonising the percentage of sciences courses, and increasing it to 30 per cent, in comparison to the arts courses. The implementation of this plan, however, is facing prioritisation challenges as the top administration grapples with financing the needs of the increasing student numbers.

Rodgers Tayebwa, a lecturer in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department told The Standard that the department is not lacking in ideas but has instead been frustrated by the university administration who have under-funded suggested projects, making it difficult for the department to achieve tangible progress.

“Engineering ideas are technically research and design. They need funding to be fabricated and developed into functional models to the standard that can be showcased at an international show like this one. Unfortunately, the university tells us that there is no money. You cannot get anywhere with that,” he said. 

Tayebwa further explained that last year, an engineering student developed a micro-filter prototype that would save the university millions of shillings in water costs by refining waste water and harvesting rain water from roof catchments so that this water can be used for car washing, irrigation or toilet flushing but this project has not been funded.

“Every month UCU pays National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) about Shs25 million in water bills but this money could be reduced if the said prototype was developed,” he said, adding that the administration needs to think of sciences in terms of practical aspects rather than theory, and also increase budgetary support.

Prim
The Uganda Christian University (UCU) Public Relations Officer, Mrs Prim Tumuramye, interacts with students at UCU’s stall during the Source of the Nile National Agricultural and Trade show which ended yesterday in Jinja (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

The Standard also learnt from sources in the department of Agriculture, who preferred anonymity, that the science laboratories in the Technology Park do not have the chemicals necessary to test the nutritional content of the products students have developed hence they could not be exhibited or sold.

“Students cannot test their products because the chemicals are not in the laboratories. How can you showcase or sell something whose expiry date you do not know?” the source added.

However, all hope is not lost.

Mr David Mugawe, the deputy vice chancellor for Development and External Relations, said that the university has allocated resources to procure modern equipment for the improvement of laboratories.

“Equipping the science laboratories is among the top ten development priorities for the 2016/17 financial year. The absence of tangible scientific models at the exhibition was due to the inadequate time UCU had to mobilise funds. Our participation in the agricultural show was a decision that came late because it was not in our work plan,” he said. 

He thus advised the department to present a clear plan and discuss their core components with the development office so that specific funds can be solicited to address identified priorities.

The Nile agricultural show this year focused on climate-smart agriculture with a view to enhaning sustainable national food security and farm incomes.

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