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.
Many farmers lose a lot of produce due to poor post-harvest handling among other reasons including lack of information, equipment, drying and storage facilities.
Quality is lost as many dry cereals on bare ground thus picking dust, stones and animal droppings. This is because most cereal producers are rural smallholder farmers.
However, interventions to improve post-harvest handling are taking shape with Sasakawa Global 2000, Ruhiira Millenium Villages Project (RMVP), Nuuma Feeds and other partners.
The results are promising as production of cereals is being promoted, not only post-harvest but value addition as well.
Dennis Musiime, 47, from Masha Sub-county, Isingiro District, is a beneficiary. He attests that before he got trained in good agricultural practices, his production was very low.
"I would plant two acres of maize and beans but have poor yields and some of it would go bad. At times by harvest, they would have gone bad in the field. Also, I would dry them on the bare ground," he says.
Together with other farmers, they formed a cooperative society, Manya Akabi Area Cooperative Enterprise (Maace). It brings together 8,146 members in the district; most of whom are women. Musiime was elected chairperson of his village.
He has six acres under maize and has already harvested 2.2 tonnes of beans. "The beans earned me Shs2.2m and I expect to harvest 800 kg of maize, which will fetch me Shs3. 2m," he says.
This has largely been possible because farmers like him have been empowered to grow for both food security and income generation.
"We have been taught to produce for the market through improved seeds, early planting techniques and fertilisers," he says. "I used fertilisers and expect to use more."
Molly Mbabazi, another farmer, is happy too. This season, she harvested two tonnes of beans and expects 200 kg of maize, which will bring in a total of Shs2.8m.
She attributes it to being a member of Maace, which has empowered women for better livelihoods .
"I do not depend on my husband. Each season, I earn good money. This has brought harmony in our family," she says.
Clare Kabakyenga, general manager, Maace, points out that the cooperative has helped farmers with bulk sales, good agronomic practices, clean seed and storage equipment. It has done this in partnership with RMVP on a cost-sharing basis.
"We have established 57 bulk centres, given farmers moisture meters, set up storage silos," she says.
From bulking centres, the maize is brought to a central store in Kaberebere Town; it has a capacity to hold 850 tonnes. It is cleaned, graded and then packed into bags according to the market. They vary from 100-kilo bags to 90, 80, 60 and 50 kilos.
The clients include schools and traders and it is even sold in DR Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda.
There are plans to procure machinery to process the maize into finished products, which will boost the income of farmers.
James Sendikadiwa, agriculture coordinator, RMVP, affirms there has been a significant improvement in the lives of the beneficiaries. "Farmers have been able to reduce aflatoxins, which are very dangerous to human and animals since farmers have silos and bags for proper storage."
Another factor is availability of machines which ensures faster harvesting and processing.
Musiime says due to the shortage of labour during harvest season, he bought a maize sheller. It can shell 60 bags of maize per hour. For each bag, he charges Shs 3,000.
This has enabled his group to ensure timely shelling thus guaranteeing quality.
James Murangira, theme coordinator, Sasakawa Global 2000, adds that farmers have improved production tremendously through the introduction of machinery for post-harvest handling.
Farmers have moved beyond production because after harvest, they can dictate prices since they have storage facilities, which allow them to keep their produce until the market is favourable to them.
From Daily Monitor
Government has been challenged to prioritise support towards building agribusiness incubation centres, if productivity is to be boosted along the value chain.
Agribusiness incubation is meant for supporting innovative ideas into practical business realities, yet these are still very expensive for young entrepreneurs.
Although government through the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) has come out to help innovative Ugandans through incubation, experts say more is needed countrywide to nurture the innovations.
"Support towards agribusiness incubation will make agriculture more profitable and attractive to the youth towards taking varied responsibilities along different nodes of the agriculture value chains," said Joseph Nkandu, executive director, National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe).
He is also founder of the Consortium for Enhancing University of Responsiveness to Agribusiness Development (Curad).
He was happy to note that the beneficiaries under Curad have made products, which have become competitive on the market and striving to satisfy the demand.
"This is the typical success story on which government should ride to promote incubation across the country," said Nkandu while touring the Curad Agribusiness Incubator last week.
The facility is hosted at Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo.
It works in partnership with National Agricultural Research Organisation, Nucafe, and Makerere University to impart practical skills to students, graduates, among others, as a way of encouraging development of agricultural value chains. Through this arrangement, incubatees get both financial and technology support to turn their agribusiness innovations and ideas into tangible and profitable commercial ventures.
Double the number
Apollo Segawa, managing director, Curad, said in the last four years the facility has been in existence, there have been more than 200 incubatees.
Curad is set to double the number of incubatees when their Sh350m agro-processing facility is established at the Kampala Industrial Development Park in Namanve.
Some of the innovations supported and developed under Curad include: Tissue culture propagation, mushroom production, coffee liqueur, coffee roasting and fruit juice making.
From Daily Monitor