By Denis Nsubuga
Smallholder farmers in eastern and northern Uganda are set to receive free rice seeds.
This will be through distributing high-quality seeds of aromatic rice varieties NARORICE-1 and KAFACI-39 under a three-year collaborative project dubbed Farmhouse demonstration and distribution of high-yielding aromatic rice and cultivation technology in Uganda.
This follows a partnership between Uganda and South Korea aimed at increasing rice production in the country.
This will be through the introduction of home-generated varieties and modern labour-saving technologies.
It follows the signing of the technical co-operation project contract between the Korea Programme on International Agriculture (KOPIA) Uganda centre and the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) last Thursday.
The project will be implemented by the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), NARO’s constituent public agricultural research institute.
Dr Park Taeseon, the director of KOPIA Uganda centre, said the project is aimed at increasing farming income by expanding the acreage and number of households growing high-yielding aromatic rice.
“Ugandans prefer aromatic rice, whose price is 1.5 times higher than the price of non-aromatic rice. If the area of aromatic rice cultivation is increased and technologies such as the Korean transplanting line, appropriate fertilisers, and weed control are applied, it will increase income from rice cultivation,” he said.
Rice ranks fourth after cotton, coffee, and maize among the top 12 crops prioritised in Uganda’s agricultural sector strategic plan. It is the second most-produced cereal after maize.
Godfrey Osiya, the director of research for NaCRRI in Namulonge, Wakiso, said the project will help to transfer knowledge and technologies from South Korea.
He said South Korea has been growing rice and their productivity is high at about eight tonnes per hectare compared to Uganda, which is about 2.7 tonnes per hectare.
Osiya said the project will encourage collaboration for development between local farmers, researchers, agricultural extension service providers and processors, sharing information as well as fostering a sense of community.
Ambrose Agona, the director general of NARO, said expanding the area under rice cultivation is a government strategy to ensure food security and reduce poverty.
Rice production is projected to increase from 320,000 tonnes to 700,000 tonnes by 2026, with a minimum export target of $7.3m.
“Currently, rice consumption relative to production is growing rapidly due to changes in Ugandans’ eating habits. Rice is becoming more favoured over traditional staples such as bananas, and imports are increasing annually,” Agona said.
According to NARO, annual rice imports have increased from 45,000 tonnes in 2011 to 150,000 tonnes in 2021.
The number of rice farmers, especially smallholder farmers with less than one hectare, has also increased annually from 54,000 to 80,000 in the same period.
The project, which ends in November 2024, will also increase rice productivity from 2.7 tonnes per hectare to five tonnes per hectare. The new project follows a three-year similar project between KOPIA and NARO, ending this month.
The project, Agona said, showed that all promoted technologies increased rice yields.
“The introduction of NARORICE-1 alone increased farmers’ income by 150%, while the use of the Korean planting line increased income by 117%. The average rice yield in Uganda is currently 2.7 per hectare per year, but NARORICE-1, distributed through the KOPIA-NARO co-operation project from 2020 to 2021, yields up to 4.1 tonnes per hectare,” he said.
Rice is also selected among the core projects for agro-industrialisation in the National Development Plan III — 2020/21, 2024/25.
Key considerations for rice agro-industrialisation in Uganda include establishing a rice processing factory in Doho, Butaleja and research on bio-fortification and multiplication of nutrient-dense rice.