Hundreds of farmers in northern Uganda have embraced irrigation to increase crop production during the dry season and boost food security.
Farmers say they are planting seeds using the irrigation schemes established by the government across West Nile, Lango and Acholi sub-regions and they are harvesting the rewards.
In Lira, for instance, farmers are growing rice at Olweny Irrigation Scheme, which covers about 600 hectares in part of Olweny swamp.
The scheme, whose reconstruction cost Shs47 billion, is benefitting 1,500 families in Barr, Agali and Itek sub-counties.
Mr Morris Engin, the chairperson of Itek-Okile Rice Growers and Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society, says the establishment of Olweny Irrigation Scheme has led to the increase in production, productivity and crop yield.
"In the first season of 2020 alone, our members realised 70,000 Kilos," he says.
In Gulu, a farmer, Mr Caesar Lukwiya, says they are growing onions, pineapples, watermelon, onions, green pepper, okra and cabbages in Ayweri Irrigation Scheme located in Paibona Sub-county.
The scheme, which was started in 2018 and constructed by the government at a cost of more than Shs740 million, is benefiting more than 80 farmers. It is seated on a 15-acre piece of land.
Mr Christopher Oyet, the chairperson of Ayweri small scale irrigation scheme, says they are benefiting a lot from it.
"In 2019, our members fetched Shs8.4m from the harvest. It has improved our livelihoods and created friendships with our neighbours," he says.
Mr Simon Peter Odongo, a farmer, says because of the market opportunity provided by South Sudan, many people are venturing into growing okra, pineapples and watermelon.
Mr Denis Olol Odiko, a senior agronomist with the ministry of Water and Environment, says experience has shown that farmers make more money from watermelon during the dry season.
"Now what the ministry is doing is to try to link the farmers to the markets at the South Sudan-Uganda border, where people want dried okra because of food insecurity in South Sudan," Mr Olol says.
"Watermelon has also penetrated the market so much because of the fruit juice. Currently, nine acres of watermelon has been planted in a staggered manner at Ayweri Irrigation Scheme," he adds.
The chairperson of Gulu District, Mr Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, appeals to the government to establish an irrigation scheme in every parish so that farmers can farm throughout the year.
"Sixty per cent of land in Acholi is unutilised because farmers lack modern farm tools. Majority are using rudimentary tools," he says.
In Pader, the government has established an irrigation scheme in Aringo Mone Village, Latanya Sub-county. The Aringo money small scale irrigation system was constructed at a cost of Shs800 million. The project, which covers 10 acres, is expected to benefit 43 households in Latanya Sub-county. Under the project, farmers are engaged in growing carrots, green pepper, watermelon, onions and cabbages.
"We are going to train them (beneficiaries) on modern agronomy practices and if they take up the training well, they will be able to generate on average Shs10 million per plot per season. This means the beneficiaries will be able to fetch Shs160 million per season from this system alone," Mr Eric Ocan, the manager of Water for Production Regional Centre - North, says.
Mr Ocan says the government has so far constructed and commissioned 24 small scale irrigation schemes in the north.
The Ministry of Water and Environment says the modern agronomic practices and technologies are helping smallholders grow more food for their families and markets, become more resilient to climate change and reduce their negative impact on the environment.
Mr Alfred Okot Okidi, the ministry's permanent secretary, notes that in order to make farmers resilient to climate change, the government needs to invest more in irrigation.
"At the moment, we are doing the irrigation master plan and we are looking at where we can put what type of facilities for irrigation across the entire country, and that we are doing jointly with MAAIF [Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries]," he says.
The permanent secretary also urges farmers in northern Uganda to maximise irrigation and use it to generate wealth.
"We have a fully pledged department of water for production based in Lira and the government tries to ensure that every parish should have a kind of economic activity that propels that parish so that whoever is there is actually leaving above the poverty level," Mr Okidi adds.
Mr Felix Okot Ogong, the Dokolo South Member of Parliament, says the small scale irrigation scheme established in Agwata Town Council is benefiting farmers in the area immensely. The Odeye small scale irrigation scheme worth Shs720 million was constructed by the government.