As effects of climate change continue to hit farmers growing cereal crops, especially maize, scientists in a number of African countries are trying to develop drought-resistant varieties to overcome this challenge.
Increasing incidences of drought in Africa are affecting maize production, a major staple crop, which resulted in frequent crop failures. However, the challenge in plant breeding is developing maize that is tolerant to drought.
So, a public-private partnership as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) was formed in 2008 and has been engaging scientists to develop such varieties in four African countries for small holder farmers.
This effort has shown that maize can be made water efficient through modern methods of plant breeding. Under Wema, the breeding is being done through conventional means, marker-assisted selection and biotechnology.
African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, is leading the partnership. It involves research institutes in five countries, namely Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.
Scientists are currently field testing MONS87460, a maize variety developed by Monsanto.
Under conventional breeding, 40 varieties were submitted to national performance trials; from Kenya, there were 16, and from Uganda, there were 24.
Kenya and Uganda have gone ahead with their third and fourth trials, with Mozambique and Tanzania following. South Africa has completed its fourth trial.
Wema varieties developed through conventional means will be released to farmers in Kenya and Uganda early this year. But those developed using transgenic materials will be available to farmers depending on research results and regulatory approval in each country.
Scientists in Uganda have also realised there was also a challenge of the Stem Borer Pest. So, two years ago, the team began developing the Bt variety with resistance to both drought and the pest. There are six varieties that were released by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Dr Grace Abalo, Wema project deployment team leader, based at Namulonge research institute, said there are also varieties known as Tego hybrids. They are conventionally bred white maize hybrids that are drought tolerant and high yielding under optimal agronomical practices.
Reach many farmers
The two varieties namely We2101 and We2130 were released late last year. They have maturity periods of 140 and 146 days respectfully.
Other varieties available include We2104, We2106, We2114 and We2115. They mature between 138 to 150 days and all the varieties are tolerant to the Northern Corn leaf blight, grey leaf spot and maize streak virus.
The team intends to reach as many smallholder farmers as quickly as possible while ensuring the long term sustainability of the seed for the farmers.
Seed companies interested in commercialisation of the hybrids will then apply to an allocation committee, which will evaluate the applicants. Those companies, which qualify to multiply and supply the seeds, will enter into agreement with AATF to ensure that the seed they are supplying is of the right quality.
Foundation seed production is currently in progress in Namulonge and it will be rolled out to seed companies in May this year.
Dr Michael Otim, one of the scientists involved, explains that it is pertinent to develop maize varieties, which are resistant to drought and insect infestation, because these are challenges farmers are currently faced with.
Getting seed to farmers
The seeds will be multiplied and sold to farmers by seed companies who have already applied for licencing certificates of distribution to Wema. Wema team will be directly involved in the seed deployment management, product management of parent seed production and the companies will take over from seed multiplication and distribution.
How the seed will be allocated to companies is done through a committee that has representatives from AATF, Africa Seed Traders association (AFSTA), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CYMITT) and the national agricultural research institutions in the different countries.
There will be information sharing among Wema through placement of advertisements in the print and electronic media before the product is allocated to seed companies.
From Daily Monitor.
The great majority of our farmers struggle to get the basic needs of food and shelter. If they have any excess produce for sale, the money earned is hardly enough to buy clothes, kerosene, and soap.
They are asked to develop a saving culture--saving money in a micro-finance institution or a bank. Yet for them saving is easier in material form than in cash form.
A cock is raised in a homestead and it is preserved for slaughtering when a visitor comes. A basket of beans or groundnuts may be stored for eating in the future. They seldom have cash to save in a bank.
They carry out farming on very small plots of land which get further subdivided among their children when the parents die. Their crop and animal management practices tend to be traditional and aimed at the bare survival of the crops and animals.
They are slow to adopt modern practices. They often don't even have the cash to spend on such inputs as fertilisers or improved seed and animal breeds.
Even those who keep animals tend to graze them on public land or communally owned land where sufficient pasture and water are not guaranteed.
Instead of purchasing improved seed they save seed from the previous harvest of their low yielding breeds.
Poor animal and crop management results in low agricultural output and continuous poverty.
As we seek a solution to this unfortunate trend one consideration would be to educate the farmers about the need to control family size to avoid further risks of land fragmentation.
They should also be educated about the advantages of keeping improved animal stock and planting improved and clean seed.
They ought to understand that most of our traditional animals and crops tend to compare poorly with imported breeds of livestock and crop seeds prepared in our agricultural research stations.
They must also be helped to store large amounts of water for irrigation and for the animals to drink.
The majority of them, particularly the women, don't own land and they constantly anticipate eviction. This kills their morale to take good care of the soil--an invaluable agricultural resource.
My name is Benjamin Kinviirewo Kigongo. I am the marketing officer for Busiro North Organic Farmers Association (Bunofa) and I live in Kijjanangabo, Nakikungube Sub-county, Masuliita County, Wakiso District.
Previously, I farmed the conventional way, growing seasonal crops such as tomatoes and cabbages, maintaining the soil using fertilisers and combating pests and diseases with chemicals. But the cost of the inputs, especially the chemicals, was very high and I was not trained in their use. Thus, my life and the lives of my customers, was exposed to danger.
When extension workers from Kulika Uganda came to our village and explained the dangers of over-used soils and chemicals, I became interested in trying a better alternative.
In 2007, I attended a two-year training programme conducted by Kulika Uganda in sustainable organic agriculture with other farmers in Kakiri and Masuliita.
I got a placement at an organic farm in Kyenjojo for two weeks. After this, I qualified to become an extension worker, helping other farmers to transition to organic farming.
At intervals, I would return to my farm to practise what I had learned about soil conservation and maintaining biodiversity.
The transition to organic farming was gradual. Most of the farm had to lie in fallow to allow expulsion of chemicals from the soil. I have five acres of land but I use two of them as I wait for the other three to get out of the fallow period. With time, I began growing vanilla. At the time, it had a high market value.
My main concern is to keep the top soil intact so that water run-off does not carry away its nutrients. To do this, we dig long trenches at the edges of the gardens and plant what we call "kolianda" (Albizia amara) and Tithonia. These offer cover and protect the soil against water run-off.
Organic farming must be integrated with livestock so that the animal waste can be utilised to fertilise the soil. When I clear the gardens, the green waste also feeds the animals.
I make my own compost and manure. We place green, food, and animal waste in deep pits, add ash and cover them.
It takes about two weeks to breakdown, after which we till it into the soil in preparation for planting.
We also make liquid manure which decomposes faster and produces nitrogen. We mix green waste from plant cover with water in a drum and cover. At intervals, stir the mixture. After seven days, pour it around the plants.
I do not mulch because when rain falls, the water and air flow are blocked. Also, chickens, in their search for food, scratch away the mulches. We once used wooden mulches and our home was attacked by termites.
I grow cabbage, tomatoes, coffee, bananas, passion fruits, cucurbits and pawpaw. I have also planted trees such as Mugavu (Albizia coriaria), Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis), and Umbrella tree (Maesopsis eminii) or Musizi as it is known locally. These are for shade in the dry seasons and act as wind barriers.
How we do it
Trees have long roots that can tap potassium that banana plants need, but cannot get because of their shallow roots. When the tree sheds its leaves, they fertilise the soil around the banana plant. As Bunofa, we have decided to introduce apple bananas in our farms.
For livestock, I rear pigs and goats on a small scale. Bunofa is also placing emphasis on its members to rear Kuroilers; each member starting with 20 of them.
We vaccinate but do not administer antibiotics. Instead, we use red pepper, aloe vera), Bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina) and Jewelweed (Varnanonia) for simple diseases.
I have adopted beekeeping because cross-pollination can occur in a healthy way since the crops do not have chemicals in their system.
We market our products collectively as Bunofa. Our markets are not conventional because the produce demands a higher price. We do home deliveries, supply the specialty shop at Nogamu [National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda] and participate in their farmer's market.
A section of our fruits are marketed in dry form. We dry using solar kits that keep the nutrients in the fruits intact. When the weather favours, that is on hot days, they take about three days to dry.
When we formed Bunofa, Kulika Uganda assisted us to enter the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) and funded the facilitator who worked with us. Currently, we have 19 active members, and we monitor each other to ensure that we remain organic. Our goal is to get the East Africa organic (Kilimohai) mark on our products so that we can enter the East African market.
Benefits and challenges
Among the benefits I have got from organic farming is that the health of my family has improved since we began an organic diet. Also, farming is now a profitable profession. It is late January but I am still harvesting coffee because of good soil conservation methods that we use.
The main crops I grow are coffee and bananas. Before, I would harvest a total of 600kgs of coffee beans in the peak season. Now, it is between 800–900kgs. With the bananas, it is about the quality of the output. Before, the banana bunch was small and would fetch Shs5,000–Shs6,000. Now, the bunches are bigger, it goes for Shs10,000 on the market.
I also meet with other farmers and we share our experiences and how to improve our farming. The challenges include a lack of proper water harvesting has made us inconsistent on the market during the dry seasons. I cannot yet afford an irrigation kit to cover the whole area. The cheapest, which costs Shs450,000 can only work on quarter of an acre yet I have five acres.
The roads are terrible yet we have to collect produce from different farms. We also do not have enough crates and boxes to package our produce.
Because we do not have processing plants, we cannot add enough value to our produce. We make juice and wine but getting bottles, labels, and certification is difficult.
As a group, we bought basic equipment for extracting juice and we use our sitting rooms for processing.
We are also challenged by the coffee stem borer. We cannot spray the plant and the disease spreads fast. Now, we pull out the stems and burn them as a temporary remedy.
Perspective> Organic farming: Should Uganda consider it as a viable option?
By Gillian Nantume
Ugandan farmers have always practiced forms of organic farming, crop rotation, fallowing, mulching, and making manure from crop and livestock waste, among others.
Agriculture, being the backbone of the economy, it is estimated that at least 85 per cent of farmers engage in some form of organic farming or the other. It was only in the early 1990s that the certified organic agriculture started.
Between 2002 and 2007, the amount of acreage being farmed this way grew by 60 per cent, more than any other African country.
Locally, organic farming methods and standards are enforced by National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (Nogamu). These place a strong emphasis on protection of the environment and conservation of biodiversity.
Irene Bamugaya Kugonza, standards and certification officer, Nogamu, says their mandate is to promote local and export marketing of organic products from Uganda. "We also build their [farmers] capacity by reaching out, to teach sustainable farming methods, assess their needs and link them to buyers."
Most farmers are smallholder farmers working on less than 10 acres. "The international market is large and needs large quantities which these farmers cannot supply individually," says Kugonza. "We encourage them to sell their produce collectively to get the volumes and qualities required for the market."
Nogamu lists more than 200,000 organic farmers but, according to Kugonza, there is no government policy or regulation in place.
"Anyone can claim to be an organic farmer and sell their produce anywhere. It's just a level of development we are at as a country. I believe that as the sector becomes more important in terms of revenue and taxes generated on the export market, a regulatory policy will be set up."
Link to markets
In 2002, the Uganda Organic Standard (UOS) was adopted, while in 2007, as part of the East African Community, Uganda adopted the East African Organic Products Standards (EAOPS).
The latter now serves as a promotional tool and has enhanced trade opportunities in the five member countries. In July 2009, the government released a draft Uganda Organic Agriculture Policy to support the development of organic agriculture.
Locally, organic produce is sold all over the country, in supermarkets and through home deliveries. In its bid to link buyers to farmers, Nogamu launched a monthly farmers' market and a specialty shop at their offices. Organic products include cotton, coffee, simsim (sesame), dried and fresh fruit, vanilla, fish, honey and bark cloth.
Internationally, though, Ugandan farmers, with certification, export to niche markets in Europe USA, Asia and other parts of Africa. The number of exporters has been growing; it is now 44.
The premium prices that a farmer can fetch in the international market, where there is a wide-spread awareness of organic foods, is a big boost.
Being a landlocked country, high transaction costs, have ensured that we do not compete favourably with countries such as Ghana in the conventional market.
Meet the demand
The lack of general information on organic produce has created a situation where there are many farmers but few buyers. And because of the farming methods, farmers feel entitled to premium prices. Not many people are willing to pay a higher price for a commodity they can buy cheaper in the conventional market.
As such, organic farmers have turned to the international market. Because the consumers are many, farmers find that they have to sell collectively to meet the large quantities ordered.
Because they must obtain a certificate before they are allowed to sell their produce, this has been a deterrent to many because of the costs involved. There are also few certification experts in the sector who can deal with standards and conformity.
Lack of food processing factories to add value to organic produce is a major challenge. Kugonza says, "Farmers export pineapples, with the crown and peelings, which take up space in the packaging. This fetches low prices because of additional work needed before it can be ready for consumption."
The banking sector considers agriculture a high risk area. While loans are offered to the business sector, agriculture is ignored though some banks have formulated packages for the sector.
To produce more
It is a cycle that should be broken because with low interest loans, organic farmers can buy irrigation kits that would ensure they supply the market at all times, making them able to repay the loans.
Uganda, being of a tropical climate with a higher incidence of disease, the use of antibiotics in livestock is widespread.
Here Kugonza explains, "In organic standards, a farmer is permitted to use antibiotics once a year. But on average, farmers use them at least six times year. Besides, there is no certification for livestock in Uganda so a consumer of livestock products can never be sure what they are consuming is truly organic."
It is estimated that for the world to achieve food security by 2050, we will need 50 per cent more food than what is produced today. In Uganda, the means for food production are being challenged by climate change, water shortages and limited land.
The debate on the yields from organic farms as compared to conventional ones is still raging. In 2008, the US Department of Agriculture conducted the Organic Production Survey. One of the findings was that organic farms have lower yields than conventional farms.
Globally, the call is for sustainable and environmentally friendly organic farming. To remain relevant, Ugandan farmers have to think about ways to protect the soil and water for future generations.
"On our packages, customers now expect details of how you are conserving the environment and biodiversity," Kugonza points out.
"Since we are not consuming our products ourselves, we have to remain relevant in the international produce market."
Studies commissioned by UN's environment and trade agencies (Unep and Unctad) indicate that farm gate prices of organic pineapples, ginger and vanilla were 300, 185 and 150 per cent higher than conventional products.
Besides providing employment opportunities for the youthful population, by focusing more on organic farming, Uganda will mitigate climate change. The emissions of greenhouse gases per hectare are estimated to be 64 per cent lower than the emissions from conventional farms.
For certification, farmer groups approach Nogamu and, depending on the type of certification desired, inspection is done and a decision taken by a committee at a cost of $100 (Shs289,400 at current rates) for one and a half years. Farmers groups can also opt for a Participatory Guarantee System that ensures that they have uniform procedures and follow specified criteria for sale to the East African market.
For the international market, unless the client requests for specific certification, farm groups are certified by Ugocert, for an average annual fee of $4,500-$6,000 (Shs13m-16.4m). Other certifying bodies include IMO, Ceres, Ecocert, Soil Association and BCS. However, there is a general consensus among core partners that Uganda needs its own international certification standard that is recognised by the European Union (EU). Nogamu has since applied to the EU through Cida for recognition.
Sometimes farmers grow coffee and intercrop it with two or more crops on the same land. This is commonly done in western Uganda; in districts such as Mbarara, Bushenyi, Rukungiri, Mitooma, and Ntungamo.
The reasons for intercropping range from lack of enough land, utilising the spaces between the coffee trees, and to some extent, a need to harvest two or more crops from the same piece of land. At times, the crops may thrive while others, due to some factors, may not grow well.
Eliab Baryakashanga, a farmer in Rukungiri District, notes that crops that grow well when intercropped with coffee include soya, beans and groundnuts. This is because they are short rooted and do not compete with coffee.
"If a farmer is to mix coffee with bananas, the banana should be placed eight feet apart for Arabic coffee and ten feet apart for Robusta coffee to avoid competition for soil nutrients," he advises.
Baryakashanga, however, notes that intercropping with soya, beans and groundnuts should only be done when the coffee is young.
When bananas are more than coffee, chances are that the nutrients for coffee may get depleted, compared to when the coffee trees are more than bananas.
"When intercropping bananas with coffee, a farmer should skip three coffee plants on both sides and then plant a banana," he says.
Competition for nutrients
Yoram Ruraza, also a farmer from Rukungiri District, adds that other crops that may be intercropped with coffee are maize and sorghum because they mature faster than coffee. This creates room for it to grow well.
"What should be considered is that when intercropping either Arabic or Robusta coffee with these crops, it should be at least more than three years old. When it is younger than three years, it (coffee) may cause them to wither because when growing, coffee uses a lot more soil nutrients compared to maize and sorghum," Ruraza points out.
When intercropped or not, he advises that the weeding should be done manually and not with a hoe as some farmers mistakenly do.
"When you use a hoe, you end up cutting the roots of the coffee plant, which may make it not grow well. The roots, as it grows, spread out to reach soil nutrients in different directions," he notes.
Also, as Leonald Kasigazi, Rukungiri District agricultural officer, points out: "If a farmer is to mix coffee with crops such as soya and beans, they should minimise the number of these crops as coffee is the priority. This is for soil and water conservation to prevent soil exhaustion."
Arabica coffee grows well in sandy loam soils when intercropped with plants such as bananas. But this is not the case with Robusta because just like bananas, it is also a shallow rooted feeder crop.
"When you plant Robusta in the same garden as bananas, it takes up a lot of water from the soil. It is recommended that bananas be intercropped with Robusta coffee when it is more than four years old," Kasigazi says.
Because coffee is a shade loving plant, it should be planted with certain trees to provide shades and protect it from sunshine.
When a farmer intercrops certain types of trees and bananas with coffee, he or she benefits from the food as the coffee also benefits from the shade provided by the bananas and the trees.
There is also good utilisation of labour as a farmer will work on all the crops simultaneously," Kasigazi says, adding that when a farmer does it as recommended, they also earn higher income.
Banana-coffee: a smart mix
Growing coffee and banana together generates more income for smallholder farmers, and can help them cope with effects of climate change. Farmers get 50 per cent more income from intercropping than from growing either crop alone, according to a study by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
The study, conducted in over 30 districts, showed that coffee yield remained the same. But when intercropped with bananas, the farmers gained additional income from the banana.
In the Arabica coffee-growing region around Mt Elgon, annual returns per hectare averaged $4,441 (Shs12.6m) for coffee and banana grown together, compared to $1,728 (Shs4.9m) and $2,364 (Shs6.7m) for mono-cropped banana and coffee, respectively. In Robusta-growing areas in the south and south-west, annual returns per intercropped hectare averaged $1,827 (Shs5.2m), compared to $1,177 (Shs3.3m) and $1,286 (Shs3.6m), respectively, for banana and coffee alone.
Another study, conducted by IITA and International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, suggests that intercropping may also help farmers cope with climate change pressures.
Average temperatures are expected to increase by two degrees Celsius in the coming decades, with more erratic rainfall. This could have a considerable effect on coffee production.
Coffee generates about 20 per cent of the total export revenues. Eighty per cent of the coffee grown is Robusta, which grows at altitudes up to 1,500 metres. Arabica accounts for 20 per cent of the coffee grown, and for one-third of export revenue from coffee. Arabica requires a particularly cool tropical climate found at higher altitudes, generally above 1,400 metres.
Results from the study suggest that if systems are not adapted, areas below 1,300 metres will likely become unsuitable for Arabica. Those between 1,300-1,700 metres will be compromised, if farmers do not change current practices and make use of water conservation and shade technologies.
Intercropping provides a promising alternative, however. Shade from taller banana trees can reduce temperatures for coffee plants by two degrees Celsius or more. The permanent canopy, root systems and mulch from banana prevent soil erosion and degradation. What is more, planting banana in coffee fields also helps to mitigate climate change by capturing carbon dioxide from the air and through the mulch, enriching the soil's carbon stocks.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that planting coffee in the shade of bananas may improve quality of the beans. Coffee planted with banana has been found to have a 50 per cent lower incidence of leaf rust than unshaded plants, which is important as pest and disease risks are rising with increasing temperatures.
With these advantages, the researchers also investigated why intercropping is not widespread. The downside is that it increases competition for water, nutrients and light. This competition needs to be managed by using good agronomic practices. The results could further tap the potential of banana-coffee systems to improve productivity and profitability, increase food and income security, and help adapt to climate.
Ugandan scientists have welcomed the call by Dr Jose Graziano da Silva, director general, UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) to pursue a new science-based approach to achieve sustainable agriculture.
"We cannot rely on an input-intensive model to increase production and that the solutions of the past have shown their limits," said Dr da Sliva while urging policy makers to support a broad array of approaches to overhaul global food systems. While addressing a session of FAO's Committee on Agriculture, an advisory body that helps formulate FAO's policy agenda, he stated such a shift should include change of attitude.
In addition, he noted that food production needs to grow by 60 per cent by 2050 to meet the expected demand from an anticipated world population of nine billion people.
"We need to explore these alternatives using an inclusive approach based on science and evidences, not on ideologies," as well as to "respect local characteristics and context," da Silva said.
Commenting on this, Arthur Makara, executive director, Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development—a science advocacy organisation— said the FAO chief's speech contained important proposals necessary for the attainment of sustained food security.
He cited cases of banana bacterial wilt and Cassava Brown Streak and Cassava Mosaic diseases, which are costing Uganda billions of shillings in loss of crop-yields and incomes annually.
Erostus Nsubuga, chairman, Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety (UBBC) also welcomed FAO-D.G's statement as a vilification of what Ugandan pro-biotechnology advocates have been advancing.
"That's exactly what we have been saying; that introduction of biotechnology does not remove the traditional conventional breeding systems," Nsubuga said.
"That's exactly what his (Graziano's) country (Brazil) is doing. It has both conventional and biotechnology-based breeding systems running side-by-side."
Prof Joseph Obua, chairman, Naro's Governing Council, highlighted how advances in science are being embraced to address some of these challenges.
"Our scientists have gone beyond conventional approaches and now using biotechnology to address challenges such as drought."
The scientists argue that if the growing population is to be sustainably fed, integrated agricultural systems need to be adopted where compost manure, agro-forestry, controlled fertiliser-use, less-costly irrigation, mechanisation and chemical/plant pesticides have to be adopted and used as a mix and where appropriate.
From Daily Monitor