On several occasions, President Yoweri Museveni has proposed the promotion of micro-irrigation on individual farms, as one of the strategies to overcome the current food shortage in the country.
Through this strategy, the Government would encourage the importation of necessary equipment for micro-irrigation which include drippers, sprinklers, pipes, water pumps, and so on, or where technology is possible, manufacture them locally in Uganda.
Indeed, if the appropriate irrigation technology is adopted to harness the vast water resources that we are endowed with in Uganda to grow crops, the food shortage we are currently experiencing would be no more, or not as extreme.
For generations, Ugandan farmers have relied on rainfall to water their land, with irrigation mostly left to large-scale farms for crops like rice, sugarcane and flowers for export. But with micro-irrigation, farmers would be able to grow crops on their individual farms all year round irrespective of seasons which have of late become very erratic.
Countries like Egypt and Israel have managed to utilise irrigation to produce crops to feed their population. Israel, for example, is a dry country, much drier than Karamoja in north-eastern Uganda, but has managed to harvest rainwater in big reservoirs and channel this for use in irrigation projects. Israel is well known for the manufacture, supply and export of irrigation equipment like pumps, pipes, sprinklers, emitters, etc.
There is also a wealth of technical people who carry out the design, construction, maintenance and management of the irrigation facilities.
Thus we need training of skilled personnel to act as irrigation extension service providers of on-farm water management if the technology is to succeed in Uganda.
There are some simple technologies that could easily be practiced by our small scale farmers here. An example is the smallholder drip irrigation technology that can be as simple as a 200-litre drum with a tap and with water inside, elevated above the ground in the plot and through a series of plastic pipes, water can be conveyed to the individual plants through the drippers laid along the pipes.
Such technologies, however, would require our farmers to be trained by skilled personnel in the technology. It would also require the Government to avail the equipment to the farmers at a subsidised price.
As a strategy, it would be better for the Government to organise the farmers into groups in order for them to get soft loans to buy the irrigation equipment. The irrigation water pumps can cost between sh1.9m to sh2.5m depending on its capacity. This is too expensive for an individual farmer compared to when they are in groups.
However, there are also locally manufactured treadle pumps which go for about sh300,000 which some farmers can afford as individuals to water their crops using the available water sources. It is high time the Government addressed the problems of food shortage and micro-irrigation would be one possible way to do this.