Increasing farm production while protecting the environment amidst the vagaries of weather as well pests and diseases is a crucial research question for scientists. There is an increasing number of mouths to feed yet cultivable land is getting overused while climatic seasons are unreliable.
With the support of the Nation Media Group (NMG), the Seeds of Gold Farm Clinics that concluded in Uganda in December 2019 at Buginyanya Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (BugiZARDI), put a lot of emphasis on climate smart agriculture to promote food security.
BugiZARDI director, Dr Lawrence Owere focused his opening remarks on the challenges of climate which is at the heart of research at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) stations.
“We need to find ways of coping with climatic changes. Scientists at Naro are trying to give farmers drought resistant products because farmers need to be able to improve their farming and earn high yields,” Dr Owere said.
Improved potato seed production
Key to this was the display of the revolutionary rooted apical cuttings, a new technology developed by the International Potato Centre.
Previously, potato seeds were heavy to transport yet the quality was not guaranteed. Rooted apical cuttings is a low-cost technology with a potential to increase production. Apical cuttings involve tissue culture plantlets which are used as mother plants in coco peats for producing cuttings.
In six weeks, one mother plant can be multiplied to produce up to 10 plants and the number goes to more than 15 in 12 weeks. These cuttings are transplanted on the seed bed and once rooted, are moved to net houses or open field for producing seed tubers. This low-cost technology, according to Michael Bosli, a potato seed producer from eastern Uganda district of Kween, these are climate-smart species.
"This seed production method is key to improving productivity of potato farming systems and resource use efficiency," Bosli said.
Among the many benefits, the seed is certified clean yet seeds are cheaper, each costing Shs500, compared to planting tubers.
He estimates about 400 cuttings being enough for an acre as opposed to eight bags of tubers in the same land area.
The research centre is also in the final stages of increasing wheat production in the highlands as well as expanding the production in the mid-altitude areas. This is partly driven by the fact that land in highlands is not easily mechanisable and more is available in lower altitudes ranging between 1,000 and 1,500m above sea level.
Stephen Wobibi, a senior technician of crop husbandry says candidate varieties are being tested to determine their suitability in semi-arid conditions and heat tolerance.
"The results are overwhelming and we should be able to release them to the farmers soon," he says.
The challenge for Uganda remains the high volume of imports that contribute up to 95 per cent of what is available on the market.
With recent studies suggesting that forest cover had waned with Uganda losing about 90,000 hectares between 1990 and 2010, there are renewed efforts to have newer trees planted.
World Agroforestry (ICRAF), who were among the exhibitors, showcased the best practices that can ensure food security and environmental sustainability. Friendly trees were on display.
ICRA promotes what they call productive trees which are more resilient and profitable with the health of the soil, land and people in mind.
Geoffrey Kimenya, an agroforestry specialist noted that it is important to plant trees considering the type of environment for the best results.
Finance at the heart of agriculture
All the good farming practices can up in vain without financing. Yet Uganda is now offering more platforms where farmers can access financing.
Bank of Uganda’s Agricultural Credit Facility (ACF) is a key tool which farmers can access to boost their farming practices.
Having been rolled off in October 2009, with the aim of facilitating the provision of medium and long term financing to projects engaged in Agriculture and Agro processing, focusing mainly on commercialisation and value addition, ACF is offering farmers more financial freedom.
Bank of Uganda Principal Budget Analyst Sarah Mubuke Nantongo stresses that ACF caters for the changing climate especially with a three-year grace period with a loan period of up to eight years.
“You need a loan to transform your agriculture especially in these times when the weather is highly unpredictable,” Mubuke said. ACF is available at all microfinance deposit taking institutions and credit institutions.
Agricultural Business Initiative (aBi) is also funding agriculture projects by increasing the appetite to borrow.
Working with financial institutions like BRAC and Opportunity Bank as well as Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations (Saccos), aBi subsidises loans up to 50 per cent when natural occurrences affect production or when farmers get stuck with stock and cannot pay back in time.
“Farmers who borrow no longer need to live in fear when natural hazards hit because we are able to offer them a hand such that banks cut on the losses,” George Mutaggubya, the advocacy and communications manager at aBi, said.
By George Katongole