Saturday, June 15, 2024
Home Change Makers Sebei Combats Climate Change One Carrot At A Time

Sebei Combats Climate Change One Carrot At A Time

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Javier Silas Omagor

In the rolling hills and fertile valleys of Sebei sub-region, a new chapter in agricultural innovation and conservation is unfolding as farmers embark on the journey of carrot cultivation, in a bid to combat climate change.

Beyond the traditional crops that have long defined the region’s agricultural landscape, the introduction of commercial carrot farming promises to not only diversify the local economy, but also transform lives and breathe sustainability into the communities.

In the scenic fields, the humble carrot is increasingly becoming a beacon of sustainability in the region beset by uncertainties, such as soil infertility, fickle weather patterns and climate change effects.

“Every carrot we plant and every harvest we reap is a small victory in the battle against climate change,” James Chemutai, 75, says with his voice tinged with hope.

He adds: “By nurturing the land and embracing sustainable practices, we can make a difference one carrot at a time.”

“Among other ways, growing carrots using sustainable practices cuts down carbon footprints by avoiding use of harmful pesticides and fertilisers,” Chemutai, a retired geologist said.

Seeding change

For generations, agriculture in Sebei has revolved around staple crops suited to its unique climate and soil conditions.

Seventy-four-year-old Edward Mwanga recalls: “People preferred to plant the traditional crops, such as maize, sorghum, beans, Irish potatoes, bananas and wheat, which had ready market and was easy to cultivate.

“Carrot was never considered, the few farmers who did, only planted it in small quantities for home use, but it yielded generously,” Mwanga said.

This is a testament to how the area’s soil system supports the once-neglected crop.

“Besides lack of knowledge on carrot farming, back then, the other key factor that discouraged farmers was the lack of reliable market for the crop,” Mwanga says.

In addition to economic and social benefits, Sebei carrot farmers are exploring new opportunities to diversify economic benefits and combat climate change through promoting environment-friendly practices as well as sustain the ecology.

According to Moses Mulindwa, an environmentalist and conservation activist, by adopting responsible land management practices, such as crop rotation, soil conservation and water-efficient irrigation techniques, farmers are minimising their environmental footprint.

Mulindwa adds: “Carrot crops play a vital role in carbon sequestration, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and storing it in the soil. On average, carrot fields sequester approximately 4,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare annually, making them effective carbon sinks.”

Nazipher Abigaba, a forester by profession, who doubles as the National Forestry Authority (NFA) Teso regional boss, says carrot farming contributes to healthy soils.

“Carrots are deep-rooted plants that improve soil structure and fertility,” Abigaba said.

“Their extensive root systems enhance soil aeration and water infiltration, reducing the risk of erosion and soil degradation. Healthy soils retain more carbon, further contributing to climate change mitigation efforts.” Rhoda Nyaribi, the Mbale city principal environment officer, is impressed by Sebei carrot growing, especially water efficiency.

She noted that the efficient use of water by carrots not only conserves this precious resource, but also reduces energy consumption associated with irrigation, thus lowering the carbon footprint.

Greenfields Organic Farm in California serves as a model for sustainable carrot farming.

 By implementing techniques, such as crop rotation, cover cropping and minimal tillage, the farm has reduced its carbon emissions by 23.5% while increasing soil organic matter by 17.8% of a hectare size over the past decade.

Therefore, Nyaribi believes that carrot farming is timely in the face of the urgent need to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

 Support from the Netherlands

Divine Organic Foods, an agribusiness company with offices in Kampala and Lira, has teamed up with TechnoServe Uganda, sponsors of the annual Harvest Money Expo, under the HortiMAP Project, which is implementing the carrot farming capacity building trainings in Sebei and Bugisu, sub-regions.

The HortiMAP Project, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and aims at fostering inclusive horticulture sector in Uganda.

To skill and educate farmers, the managing director, Noela Ojara, and Henry Nickson Ogwal, the director of partnerships, have been engaging farmers in Kween and Wanale in Mbale region since February.

“For the start, we targeted over 600 farmers. Besides skilling, we have assured them of the ready market, coupled with attractive prices,” Ojara says.

He explains that the value-addition machine will be able to dehydrate the carrots by sucking out the moisture while keeping the fibre intact, so that farmers will be able to preserve their harvest for better prices.

They expect to use their Kampala-based carrot factory to make different products from carrot, including powder, porridge flour, spices, crisps, cakes and cookies.

Divine Organic Foods also wants to use their connections to create a stable market in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe, the US and United Arab Emirates for farmers’ exports.

The organisation, that is already promoting value addition for tubers and other crops with a network of 85,500 farmers, included the carrot as a secondary priority crop.

Expected tonnage

In Kween, the estimated minimum on-farm production is 50 tonnes per month. Farmers have been organised according to a production calendar that covers the entire year.

The annual on-farm production in Kween district alone is estimated at a minimum of 600 tonnes per year, growing to 1,800 tonnes per year after expansion over the next one year.

The dryer to be installed has a capacity of between 250kg and 500kg per day.

Carrots produced above the capacity of the driers in the three districts will be processed from the factory in Kampala with installed capacity of 40 tonnes per month.

Ogwal says excess carrots will be supplied to clients. Joan Juliet Chelangat of Kwosir multi-purpose co-operative society said a recent training provided insight on the economic potential of carrot farming and she had to take action.

Empowering farmers, transforming communities

The managing director of Divine Organic Foods, Noela Ojara, is thrilled by the willingness of Sebei farmers to embrace carrot farming for commercial purposes.

“Their reception has been sensational and I can assure, with this kind of attitude, these farmers will realise an increased value, both in environmental and economic aspects of their lives,” she says.

Mercyline Yeko, a farmer, who is also a member of Musopishek Empowerment Foundation, lauds the multifaceted initiative, which she says would lead to an economic explosion, especially among rural female farmers.

“Already, the number of women involved in carrot growing in our village is shooting up on a daily basis,” Yeko says.

Francis Chemutai from Mowet village, Kaworyo parish, told Harvest Money that the value-addition machine will be a sigh of relief for many.

“We have often been exploited by middlemen and the fact that once harvested, a carrot must be sold there and then at whichever price the business community determines,” he says.

“You cannot oppose the price being suggested by the exploitative middlemen, while knowing that the consequence would lead to your harvest rotting away. Not anymore!” Chemutai says.

“Without value addition machines, we (farmers) will now have to determine the price, since we invest in farming ourselves.

“If they reject the farmers’ prices, we will be able to dehydrate and preserve our carrot for better sales,” he says.

Jims Justine Yeko, the Kapchorwa district commercial officer, commends Divine Organic Foods for skilling and facilitating farmers in eco-smart agriculture.

“It is always a beautiful picture to see the farming community indulge in enhanced economic enterprises as well as conserve their environment for future generation,” he says.

The commercial officer was also thrilled to note that rural women were at the forefront of the carrot farming initiative.

“When you empower a female farmer, those are multiple generations being impacted over time,” Yeko says.

LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: Ogwal training carrot farmers in Kween. Photo by Javier Silas Omagor

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