IN a sun baked village in Kamuli, farmers have more than doubled their harvest and incomes by introducing innovative approaches such as irrigation, water and soil conservation.
GERALD TENYWA interacted with some of them and agriculture experts, who urged the Government to enhance agriculture production by investing in modern farming practices.
52-year-old feeds Kamuli
She has tender little fingers like many other women, but she has created an "oasis" in Nalimawa village, Nawanyago sub-county.
As the dry season settles on Nalimawa, most residents literally drink the sweat of Betty Tigawalana. The 52-year-old woman supplies drinking water, nutritious fruits such as oranges, vegetables and milk in her village.
Although it is not easy growing crops in this rain starved village, which is sitting in the dry land belt of Uganda also referred to as a cattle corridor, the soil has catapulted Tigawalana to prosperity. Her magic wand lies in simple technologies that conserve water and add fertility to the soil. This, she says has tripled her earnings.
"I have discovered prosperity in nurturing soil by giving it water and fertility. I feed the soil and it feeds me abundantly," says Tigawalana.
She has taken a step ahead of farmers who grow improved varieties of crops and fruit trees such as mangoes and oranges.
Benefits from the project
Tigawalana has two underground tanks where she stores water harvested from the roof of her house. She uses the water for drinking, watering her vegetables and fruits.
"We give drinking water to all our neighbours during the dry season," says Tigawalana, adding that the water in the tanks lasts for up to six months without the rains.
"I do not work as hard as I used to, yet I have enough food to feed my children and sell for income. I have a smaller garden to tend because productivity has increased," she adds.
How the technology works
Trenches are dug in the ground to keep the water in the soil, releasing it slowly to the crops. Other materials used are stalks of rice and maize that keep moisture in the ground and minimise soil erosion.
Stephen Muwaya, the co-ordinator for Sustainable Land Management in the Agriculture ministry, says the practice restores soil fertility to poor soils, relies on high yielding crops in order to enhance food security and income.
He says conservation agriculture refers to minimum disturbance of soil meaning that the soil is left under continuous cover such as mulching.
"The technology ensures construction of planting basins or holes ripped in the ground leaving the rest of the garden undisturbed. Most of the water in the garden goes to the basin,"says Muwaya.
He also says it discourages growth of weeds and early planting helps crops to use the nutrients in the soil efficiently.
Muwaya says most farmers with less than three acres of land plant annual crops, but he warns that repeated cultivation leads to massive soil erosion and depletion of nutrients.
According to him conservation agriculture offers true income earning and life-changing possibilities. The technology being promoted is labour intensive at the beginning, but simple and within the grasp of poor farmers. The practice begins with digging of small trenches or "basins" at specific distances. This is followed by placing organic matter in the soil.
The seeds are then put on top of the organic matter and covered with soil to ensure easy germination. This, Muwaya says also provides nutrients including water that is captured by the "basins".
He warns that the poverty eradication drive may not yield fruit if land productivity is not increased. Muwaya also says although agriculture is private sector driven, the Government is to blame when there is a crisis like famine.
"Where you have hunger there is also anger," says Mugerwa, adding that MPs from eastern Uganda often conflict with the Government over famine when drought strikes.
Dr. Kisamba Mugerwa, the head of the National Planning Authority, agrees with Muwaya that private sector in agriculture is not deep and is still dominated by peasants.
He says Government funding to agriculture that has always shifted between 1% and 5% of the GDP, has pushed people to depend on traditional methods of agriculture. Other districts benefiting from the Sustainable Land Management project are Kaliro, Nakaseke, Nakasongola, Sembabule and Lyantonde. The project is funded by UNDP.
Lessons from the project
Tigawalana's effort epitomises the spirit of not waiting for Government promises to modernise agriculture to bear fruit. It shows farmers do not only need technological support, but also empowerment to add value to their products.
"Farmers are unable to utilise the maize and by the time they harvest, the prices are low," Muwaya notes adding, that this is leading to high post-harvest handling losses.
The markets are not organised, according to Muwaya and farmer groups are still weak leaving farmers at the mercy of exploitative middlemen.
The Government policy is that agriculture is private sector driven, but this does not benefit poor farmers. "The Government policy is good, but private sector in agriculture is still weak to engage and benefit," says Muwaya.
He says they are going to create a partnership with NAADS to ensure that more farmers benefit from conservation agriculture.
Dr. Kisamba Mugerwa, the head of the National Planning Authority, adds that private sector in agriculture is still dominated by peasants.
He says Government funding to agriculture that has always shifted between 1% and 5% of the GDP, has pushed people to depend on traditional methods of agriculture, which do not give good yield.
Mugerwa says training of poor farmers in improved farming practices like soil fertility, irrigation and removing constraints in accessing water harvesting may improve agriculture productivity.
Uganda's agriculture transformation still a dream
The share of the agricultural sector in Uganda's GDP has been declining from 39.9% between 2001 and 2002 to 23.7% between 2008 and 2009, according to the Human Development report.
Godber Tumushabe, the director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, says: "Uganda's labour is still stuck in agriculture and the country is not experiencing a shift from labour in agriculture to other sectors."
At a recent, African fertililiser Summit, it was noted that the main reason for Africa's food shortage was nutrient depletion through decades of nutrient mining without increase in fertilizer use.
"Fertiliser use in sub-Sahara Africa is the lowest in the world's lowest averaging 8kgs per hectare per year. It was resolved at the summit that fertilizer use be increased to 50kgs per hectare every year by 2015," says Prof. Kitungulu Zake, a consultant on Agriculture.