My name is Kalafa Mwanje Kintu, a resident of Bukujju village, Kayunga Sub-county, Kayunga District. I am an organic coffee farmer with a plantation of two and a half acres. I also do bee-keeping, own an acre of sweet banana, and a piggery with seven pigs.
Before I started farming in 2010, I was a volunteer mobiliser in the Kayunga RDC's office. Since I was just a volunteer, I was not being paid. This kept me poor because I spent most of my time in that office. My children did not go to good schools and my family's standard of living was low.
In 2010, during the presidential campaigns, President Museveni talked about how each household could earn at least Shs20m a year. That this would be possible if each household had two acres of coffee, an acre of banana and a dairy cow.
Since we had family land, I decided to give the president's advice a try. I went to then Kayunga RDC, Margret Balyehuki, and told her about my plan. She was happy with the idea and asked the district Naads officials to avail me with 1,000 coffee seedlings.
I prepared the land and dug pits of two by two feet, and put in farmyard manure to enhance soil fertility. I used a spacing of nine by nine feet between the plants to accommodate 1,000 of them. I also dug water channels and terraces to deal with rainwater run off.
Since I planted my coffee in a dry season, I watered them until the rains started. I also planted grass at the edges of the garden to control soil erosion.
When the plants were about one and a half feet tall, I bent the branches. Doing this makes it produce many branches at those spots. This means more yields per plant. However, when the plant produces many branches, a farmer should ensure that they are trimmed regularly.
It is increasingly becoming common to hear people say they do not use artificial fertilisers and pesticides because they want to produce safe and chemical-free crops. Some even argue that chemicals destroy the soil and so they use organic manure since it is natural.
To some, chemicals mean poison. They think it is risky to eat crops on which artificial fertilisers or pesticides have been applied. We also hear some health service providers say their treatment is herbal and chemical-free as if to imply that chemical-free is necessarily healthier.
Can farmers really avoid the use of chemicals? What is a chemical and what is not?
A document, titled Making Sense of Chemical Stories, prepared by Mark Lorch, a chemistry lecturer at University of Hull [in UK] illustrates that it is pretty hard for humans to avoid chemicals: "...right from the air that we breathe to the pills that we swallow, they are all chemicals."
Everything natural that we eat or drink, including tea or coffee, naturally contains a chemical and what really matters is the amount we consume. "Just because a chemical is present does not mean that it is harmful in the amount present," Lorch argues.
For instance, he goes on to say, apples naturally contain amycoalin, pears contain forvaldehyde and potatoes contain solann but they are safely eaten by humans.
A lot of the chemicals that we are told to dread are extracted from plants and other organisms. Some natural chemicals are far more poisonous than man-made chemicals. "Man made or natural, tasty or toxic, they are all chemicals," he states.
When a farmer applies cattle urine on his or her crops as fertiliser, he or she should know how much urea is in the urine that the crop really needs. This may not be easy to estimate.
Yet, urea bought from the farmers' shop normally comes with guidance on how much should be safely applied on the crops. A large-scale farmer might find it a lot harder to get sufficient urine to fertilise a square mile of Robusta coffee than to buy bags of urea for the same purpose.
A recent edition of Crop Biotech Update Report (released in January 2015) quotes the following statement by Prof. Lord Krebs, Principal, Jesus College, to the Oxform Farming Conference.
"Organic farming does not necessarily equate to environmentally friendly farming. Organic farming is generally less productive per hectare meaning more land is needed to produce a certain amount of food. Converting land to agriculture, especially arable farming, results in the release of large amounts of carbon, so from the point of view of reducing greenhouse gases, organic farming might actually be a worse option than conventional farming."
He suggested that other forms of agriculture could also be harnessed to mitigate the effects of climate change.
"Some evidence suggests that genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant crops, facilitate minimum tillage agriculture, a further reason for encouraging their acceptance by the food industry," Lord Krebs added.
"But if we look at the big picture, there's no doubt that we are going to need all the appliance of science that we can muster, if agriculture is to rise to the challenge of feeding the world in a changing climate with diminishing resources. In short, we are going to have to produce more with less."
Time and again, animals and poultry must be immunised against disease or treated with medicines and the farmer has to use acaricide (chemicals) to kill ticks and to keep tsetse flies away from the animals.
As Africans, we ought to understand that we face different problems in terms of food production and distribution. Our communities are fighting for freedom from hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty.
Our population is the fastest growing globally amidst extreme weather conditions due to climate change. We cannot, therefore, afford to adopt farming methods that do not guarantee maximum production. We must increase our use of pesticides and fertilisers, chemical or organic, depending on our ability and circumstances and avoid unnecessary biases. Chemicals are not always poisonous.
As Mark Lorch has said, "The modern world has been built on the innovations of chemists. For example, most of the world's population is sustained by the innovations by one of them. Fritz Haber invented a means to turn nitrogen in the air into a useful agricultural fertiliser (40 per cent of the nitrogen in you comes from Haber's reaction). Meanwhile the chemists who artificially prepared or purified antibiotics are responsible for a treatment that saves more lives than any other medical intervention."
We seem to fear to improve agricultural production by the use of chemicals yet medical solutions that contains chemicals sustain human life. Even medicinal herbs contain chemicals.
From Daily Monitor
Not long time ago, rice was perceived as a crop grown on a large scale in places like Kibimba [in Bugiri District]. But with introduction of a number of upland varieties, rice has been widely adopted by farmers.
In some parts of the country, it has become a preferred cash crop.
Available data by Africa Rice, a pan-African research organisation, indicates that the introduction of New Rice for Africa (Nerica) variety challenged the traditional varieties. Farmers appreciate it for its hardiness, high yield and shorter maturity period.
Nerica includes a group of 18 upland rice varieties developed by the CGIAR Consortium with Africa Rice and various partners in different countries including National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) in Uganda.
In Uganda, several Nerica varieties were introduced in 2002. By 2009, the area planted with upland rice has increased from 1,500 to more than 50,000 hectares.
Contrary to West Africa, where rice is grown as staple food, for farmers in East Africa it is more of a cash crop.
Dr Ambrose Agona, director general, Naro, while explaining the status of rice production, said Ugandan farmers stand a chance to benefit in the global rice value chain.
This was during the Africa Rice's Council of Ministers meeting, held February 6 in Kampala.
He noted that in Uganda the yields obtained are a third of the total demand.
This is attributed to poor agronomic practices and factors such as pest and diseases. There is also fluctuation in rice production.
Despite the fact that farmers use less fertiliser, they are harvesting significant quantities of rice.
However, researchers advise them to use fertiliser to boost soil fertility for better output.
Also, Naro plans to form a task force to seek ways to promote mechanisation and processing.
The National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Namulonge, has received germplasm from Africa Rice for improved varieties.
But, in general, figures show African countries have tripled production. There is an increase of 40 per cent against a 20 per cent consumption rate. There is a 14 per cent decline in rice imports from leading rice growing countries such as Vietnam.
Tress Buchanayandi, minister of Agriculture, who currently chairs the Council of Ministers, observed that rice is an important food security crop in Africa.
Therefore, there was the need for more farmers to engage in growing rice. The current global rice market potential is $5b (Shs14.37t).
Thus, African countries are encouraged to favourably compete for this market in a bid to increase farmer incomes.
Thus, farmers are urged to use improved seed as well as fertiliser plus good agronomic practices to achieve higher yields.
Dr Jimmy Lamo, who heads rice research at NaCRRI, said since 2002, his team released several upland varieties.
These include Nerica 1, Nerica 2, Nerica 4 and Nerica 7. In 2013, varieties named Namche 1 to 4 were released. These varieties mature in 100-130 days depending on the variety.
Traditional rice varieties, which grow in wetlands, were grown by schemes such as Kibimba Rice Scheme.
And many farmers were growing both upland and lowland rice therefore the need for these improved varieties.
The team, which has been conducting research since 2010, were in position to release four varieties that grew in wetlands.
The main disease, which is a challenge to farmers around the globe is the rice yellow mottle. Farmers have been relying on Kibimba rice varieties, the K series, which has since succumbed to the disease.
The varieties obtained from Africa were mainly WITA 9 rice varieties from West Africa, two varieties from Tanzania and others from the International Rice Research Institute (Irri) breeding centre in Mozambique.
These varieties were released with the following names, Irri 1, GSR007, Nerica 6, which is tolerant to yellow mottle disease, Irri 522 released in the brand name Comboka.
Africa Rice has also given scholarship opportunities to scientists in Uganda.
One of them got a PhD, three obtained Master's degrees and several attained certificates in rice breeding related areas.
Incoming Africa Rice director general, Dr Harold Roy-Macauley, said he will emulate his successor, Dr Papa Abdoulaye in promoting transparency, equity, scientific excellence, strengthening of National Agricultural Research Systems.
Following this will call for repositioning Africa in the global rice industry to capture a substantial part of the market.
From Daily Monitor
It is estimated that 30 and 40 per cent of the food grown in developing countries, such as Uganda, is lost.
Some of it is eaten by birds and rodents when it is still in the field, some is destroyed by pests before and after harvest, while some of it just goes bad due to poor storage and delays in transport on its way to the market.
This unfortunate situation is not only a big threat to food security; it is also a major hindrance in the fight against poverty.
Most of our farmers lack suitable storage facilities and they are forced to sell all their harvest when more often than not the market price is at its lowest.
We have a tragic situation in which the farmers struggle to produce more than enough food to support their families but they continue to be hungry and poor.
One step to reduce food loss would be to teach our farmers about food preservation which, incidentally, is not rocket science.
Harvested cassava or sweet potatoes can be cleaned and cut into chips and dried under the sun.
Prolong shelf life
Food preservation is defined as the process of treating and handling food in such a way as to stop or to slow down its spoilage.
With the arrival of the rural electrification programme, farmers in their groups could take loans to acquire solar food driers.
Hydro-generated electricity can be used to power deep freezers that preserve milk, fish, and meat. Refrigeration can also prolong the shelf life of vegetables and fruits.
Food drying as a means of preserving food is as old as the hills. Our grandparents preserved meat and fish by drying them under the sun or by placing them at the fire place.
Today, many food crops including fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, and oil seeds can be preserved by drying.
When the food is laid out to dry it loses nearly 90 per cent of its water. Yet, it is water that keeps most of the micro-organisms that spoil the food.
When the water is removed from the food through drying, the micro-organisms lose accommodation and the food gains longer shelf life.
From Daily Monitor
Our daily lives are quite used to scientific innovations that we trust and use--mobile phone, radio, television, electricity, and even the car or motorcycle.
When a man-made device such as a mobile phone is used to communicate news of the death of a close relative, the entire homestead "goes wild". People begin wailing and making preparations for a burial without casting any doubt about the efficacy of the small handset by which the news was announced.
However, even in villages, where images and sounds travel through the air to a TV set in a living room, the farmers still has doubts about cloned coffee plantlets or tissue culture plantlets as preferable planting material for higher yields.
Many farmers feel safe driving a car, which is a scientific innovation but they shun biotechnology products, forgetting that they too are a result of scientific innovations like mobile phones and cars.
Scientists take time carrying out plant propagation. They make careful selection of certain varieties with desirable characteristics and manipulate their genetic make-up to build a good range of crop species.
These are aimed to be high yielding or disease resistant or to have strong growth vigour. They have evolved new crop varieties with economically desirable characteristics. This is technology that most of our farmers have failed to trust.
Through tissue culture, it is possible to produce thousands of clean, disease-free, plantlets of crops such as bananas, coffee, cassava and several other crops from the leaves of healthy parent crops.
Scientists also develop plants by vegetative propagation and come up with identical copies of the parent plant that has desirable characteristics. Such plants are referred to as clones. Cloned Robusta coffee plantlets sold at recognised coffee nurseries are a very good example of this.
Unfortunately, most of our farmers are still reluctant to accept planting materials that have been developed by scientists. They still prefer to use planting material obtained from previous harvests or to develop their own seedlings using traditional, backward methods. They do not trust modern agricultural scientific innovations and so agricultural production remains low.