By Stephen Nuwagira
Didas Bagyenyi, a model farmer in Kitagwenda district, would watch helplessly as his coffee plantation withered during the dry spells that always scorched dead the weak trees. The farmer had even contemplated cutting down the coffee shamba at some point because “the devastating effect the annual long droughts would have on it” with some trees barely surviving.
However, this is all now in the past thanks to a small irrigation system he installed in August this year to water the coffee plantation. Bagyenyi’s experience is just a representation is shared by other farmers across the country, especially in Ibanda, Kazo and Kitagwenda districts, who depend on rain-fed agricultural production. The farmers have had to turn tradition on its head and espy the skies for sighs of rain as the long droughts, emanating from changing climatic conditions, scorched their crops and pastures lands.
“The rains are always late and inadequate in Mahyoro, but I won’t worry about that anymore. I had previously focused on coffee but the irrigation equipment has opened new opportunities in horticulture production,” says Bagyenyi of the rewards of embracing technology for sustainable farming. This means having new sources of income compared to depending on coffee alone previously, Naboth Kamubona, the Kitagwenda district production officer says.
Kamubona says crop irrigation “ends dependency on seasonal rains. It widens farmer opportunities, enabling them to produce and earn more money throughout the year besides making them climate resilient”.
“I used to grow only coffee on two acres of land, but since I got the irrigation equipment in August, I have started cultivating vegetables. Already, the cabbages are in the market and the egg plants have started flowering,” he said in an interview. He plans to plant tomatoes after harvesting the cabbages in a few weeks.
Bagyenyi adds: “I want to take full advantage of irrigation to produce high-value vegetables during the dry season to make good cash.”
Climate resilient farming
Mahyoro experiences long dry spells annually, lasting about four months after the main crop season in January/February. It is, however, not Kitagwenda alone as the past decade has seen drastic changes in weather conditions across the country and globally, resulting into long dry seasons and unpredictable and increasingly destructive rains.
That is why experts are rooting for smart technologies and practices to cushion farmers, making them climate resilient for sustainable crop and animal production, and ensuring the economy is robust.
“The unpredictable weather changes require that farmers adapt many smart farming approaches to produce crops sustainably, for the market and home consumption,” Ibanda district agriculture officer Peter Abaho says.
He explains that Ibanda is prioritising crop irrigation and also promotes climate resilient approaches like agro-forestry to cushion them against the adverse effects of climate change.
Abaho explains that agroforestry boosts water retention in the soil and also provides shed to the crops. Farmers are also able to earn an income from the trees like avocado, which improves that livelihoods and standards of living, he adds.
“We have incorporate the concept of agro-forestry, where food crops are intercropped with friendly tree species or used as boundary markers to protect crops against strong winds and sunshine and, therefore, reduce the effects of climate change,” he says.
However, Simon Muhumuza, the CEO of Green Environment Organisation (GEO), says trees must be planted “with intention”, with only those that support agroforestry like multipurpose fruit trees such as avocado, are recommended.
“This way, there is that micro-climate that is established at household level, which plays a big role in combating impacts of climate change,” Muhumuza says.
He adds that some crops can survive better through intercropping system, which also helps to control pest and diseases. This integrated pest management system under climate smart agriculture, enables farmers to save money they could have spent on pesticides, he adds.
The GEO chief adds that rain water harvesting as a climate smart technology helps farmers to produce in the dry season and support animal production.
“Irrigation is crucial to ensuring farmers are climate resilient amid changing climatic conditions,” he says. He says research done in Ibanda North county indicates that smallholder commercial maize farmers practising water harvesting and irrigation recorded increases in yields compared to their counterparts that were not.
Soil water conservation
The extension workers are also training farmers in creating new age soil and water structures to “ensure that the little rains or water the farmer receives on the farm is made to sink in the soil and is retained”. “Ordinarily, when it rains the water runoffs are left to go and do not benefit the farmers. After a few days, the crops start showing signs of water deficiency. But we are now training farmer to construction of ditches in banana or coffee plantations to trap the rain water runoffs, and also check soil erosion,” Abaho said.
The district agriculture officer said there are 110 demo sites across the district, where communities learn soil and water conservation technologies such as construction of ditches in banana plantations to ensure that the little rain water received is retained in the soils.
“So, all that water is trapped and made to sink into the soil then it can be available in the root zone and the plantation for longer period of up to two-three months,” Abaho says.
Farmers are trained in soil fertility management, especially mulching and intercropping, which helps plants to get enough nutrients and stay stronger to withstand the adverse effects of climate change, he notes.
Bernard Taremwa, a banana and coffee farmer in Nyamuswiga, Kashangura in Bisheshe Division, Ibanda municipality, says the technologies have helped support production during the dry seasons. He explains that retained water in the soil enables the crops to continue flourishing deep into the dry spells.
“Before I constructed the ditches, the plantations would be hit by the drought within weeks of its onset and would take long to recover,” Taremwa says.
The coffee, he adds, would at times fail to produce for a whole season as it recovered from the after effects of the dry weather conditions. This greatly hurt the crop’s output and farmer’s income until the trend was reverse by the construction of ditches, which improved the water retention capacity of the soil and sustained banana and coffee plantations and earnings.
Other climate smart innovations
Keith Ahumuza, a poultry and pig farmer in Rwemirondo cell in Kazo town council, has adapted what some will say are hitech approaches to producing some of the feeds required by the birds and pigs.
Ahumuza grows maize fodder for the birds and pigs using hydroponics technology. The fodder works as greens enabling the birds to produces yellow yolk eggs that are sold at a premium.
The young agripreneur also rears the black soldier flies to produce maggots that are fed to the birds and mixed in pig feeds, replacing ‘mukene’ (silver fish) as source of protein.
He says these technologies enable him to save and do not need a lot of space and partly ensure that his farming ventures do not hurt the environment and are climate resilient and sustainable.
Govt efforts toward sustainable agric production, resilient economy
The Government is currently supporting farmers to buy irrigation equipment under its micro-scale irrigation programme that seeks to increase national irrigate land besides cushioning farmers in the country against the effects of adverse dry spells.
Through the programme, farmers who buy solar-power irrigation equipment pay only 25% of the total cost with the Government footing 75%. Those that opt for diesel or petrol powered equipment, like Bagyenyi, part with 75% of the cost. The balance is paid by the government. The Government has highly subsidised the solar-powered equipment to promote the country’s green growth agenda.
The Government is piloting the programme in 40 districts countrywide, including Kitagwenda, Amuru, Nwoya, Omoro, Kibaale, Kyenjojo, Kyegegwa, Kamwenge, Bushenyi, Rukungiri, Ibanda and Ntungamo. Qualifying farmers in Mubende, Sembabule, Kalungu, Bukomansimbi, Lwengo, Masaka, Rakai, Kyotera, Mityana, Butambala, Mpigi, Wakiso, Nakaseke, Luweero and Mukono districts will also be supported during this phase.
Others are Tororo, Kapchorwa, Manafwa, Mbale, Bududa, Sironko, Buikwe, Jinja, Luuka, Iganga, Mayuge, Kayunga and Kamuli.
The Government, through Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), is also giving out pasture seeds and tractor growing of fodder crops to ensure availability of feeds in the dry season.
The choices are clear, but the work ahead in enormous. However, steps taken by farmers Bagyenyi, Taremwa and the Kazo district, coupled with the interventions by authorities in the three districts are critical safeguards for their agriculture-dependent economies to be climate resilient in terms of sustainable returns and production.
So, adaption of smart technologies and climate resilient practices are the future of agriculture and can no longer be ignored anymore, notes Abaho.