The study examines conditions for effective skills development in Uganda in the context of reducing rural poverty. It assesses the achievements and shortcomings of the Ugandan policy framework for formal and non-formal vocational education and training for the rural labour force. It argues that the capacity of the formal vocational training system is unlikely to be adequate for the provision of services that reach the poorest segments of the rural labour force, despite significant improvements brought about by on-going reform processes. The analysis of Uganda’s strategy for agricultural education, as well as its agricultural extension system, points to the need for a more comprehensive approach to rural skills development, which can respond to the skills needs of smallholder farmers and agricultural wage workers.
The paper argues that in order to up-scale sustainable results through non-formal vocational training in rural areas, skills development efforts need to be integrated into existing organisational structures of farmers at the local level. Case studies of agricultural cooperatives in eastern Uganda provide fresh evidence of innovative approaches to skills development for the rural poor. However, this study also shows that the integration of training provision into existing organisational structures may compromise, rather than improve, access to training. As economic and social structures of organisation in rural communities are strengthened, existing inequalities may be perpetuated. As a result, access to training, as well as other services, may be biased towards wealthier and more powerful sections of the community. The paper concludes that any integration of non-formal training provision into cooperative approaches needs to carefully assess the local political environment, as well as the existing structures of economic and social inequality.