My name is Happy Richard, a farmer growing various crops in Mubende and Kyenjojo districts. These include maize, beans, vegetables such as hot pepper, and coffee.
This is because Mubende is fairly dry and maize, which can withstand such weather conditions does well in this area. Coffee does well in Kyenjojo because it is fairly cool with rainy conditions.
I own a company called the Green Earths Societies, which mainly helps in identification of quality farm inputs for farmers in the two districts.
We ensure that farmers use inputs such as fertilisers, herbicides and proper farm tools as well as good quality seed.
Identifying good inputs
In most cases, I advise farmers to use NPK mainly in maize and foliar fertiliser for vegetables. And also to use pesticides to control pests that end up destroying the crops.
We ensure that the farmers get the right seed, pesticide and fertiliser. We do this by relying on the agro-input shops in the two districts but we sometimes travel to Kampala to purchase these inputs.
Since there is a lot of counterfeiting farm inputs, there is nothing we do in a special way to identify good farm inputs.
We simply rely on trial and error, which we are in position to do through experience by observing the labelling or doing our purchases from the same shop.
The price also determines the choice because the higher the price, the better the product.
As a farmer, I always advise my colleagues to put all their effort in it as their key trade activity by taking care of their farm, exercising good agronomy practices besides application of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers to achieve good yields.
My biggest challenge was when our company was contracted to multiply sorghum and supply to a brewery company.
We bought 1.4 tonnes of sorghum seeds from Lira and supplied it to a total of 170 farmers. The crop grew so well in their farms but only 54 farmers realised good yields. The rest of the farmers remained with crops that failed to fruit.
There are incidences where you can purchase herbicide spray. When you use it to spray the weed, you will see them growing healthier yet you expected the herbicide to kill the weeds.
A keen farmer will try his or her best to spray again thinking the quantity applied during the first spray was not adequate but still it will not work out.
Another incident I remember is when we purchased beetroot seed and supplied it to 40 farmers in Mubende. All the farmers reported that the plant did not germinate.
This was a well-labelled seed with packaging indicating it was developed in South Africa. The seed was very costly; in that, just 300 grams cost Shs70,000.
Beetroot is a kind of vegetable farmers can earn better income. One root costs about Shs2,000 in the open market and in supermarkets, the price is even higher.
So, you can now imagine the challenge we face in choosing the right agro-inputs
My company operates in such a way that I identify a shop where I think quality seed can be purchased, collect money from the farmers and carry out bulk purchases. Then, I distribute accordingly to the farmers.
Sometimes I advise them to buy what they need from a particular shop that I have found to sell genuine products.
But many of them tend to opt for buying them at cheaper prices. So, they end up with fake ones.
Many farmers think counterfeit or substandard products are only common in seed and chemicals but it is even worse in terms of tools such as hoes, pangas, ox ploughs and many other types of equipment used in farming.
Interest in crops
Before I started growing crops, I used to rear goats. I had thousands of goats but a strange disease attacked them. They began to lose weight, and many died.
I sought advice from veterinary doctors but they could not help me. I remained with only 150 goats, which I sold off and switched to crop farming.
I have four acres of coffee in Kyenjojo and four acres for the vegetables. I sell one kilogramme of fresh hot pepper at between Shs4,000 and Shs15,000 depending on the season. Although sometimes 40 per cent will end as a reject.
The maize tonnage produced in a season is currently at six tonnes, which we sell immediately after harvesting and drying.
Interest in crops
My interest is in growing these major crops such as maize and coffe. It was much later that I got into hot pepper, tomatoes and ginger. I advise those farmers who can, to venture into growing beetroot.
Beetroot can be grown in two ways, if the land is well prepared one can simply sow the seeds but with spacing of a foot each.
You can also first sow the seeds in nursery beds and later transplant the seedlings to the garden. It matures in two months.
Deal with counterfeits
Lastly, I urge the Ministry of Agriculture and Uganda National Bureau of Standards to jointly address the issue of counterfeits.
They should eliminate people who deal in fake agro-inputs because it hurts the farmers.
Even if farmers are faced with these challenges, I urge them not to give up. I have now become an adviser.
I did not have a lot of information but from experience, I still go ahead to advise the farmers. It is just a matter of trying to understand the problem so that we are in position to help each other.