By Titus Kakembo
Ten years ago rice was a preserve for the rich or a special cuisine spared for Christmas and ceremonies. But with the introduction of more than 16 species to farmers, the cereal is fast replacing some staple foods in part of the country and becoming a preferred cash crop in some circles.
“The land under upland rice shot up from 1500 hectares ten years ago to 220,000 hectares by 2011,” said the deputy director general of National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) Dr. Ambrose Agona.
“Consequently, the volume of rice harvested shot up from 80,000 to 220,000 metric tons last year.”
“Local production has saved the state more than $30m that it would have spent importing rice. It is now ideal for food security.”
Adding that, “When cassava mosaic hit eastern Uganda and the central region was ravaged by banana wilt, rice had to take their place.
Wakiso, Luwero, Gulu, Teso and Hoima are now producing lots of rice.
This has made Uganda a food basket in a region that is badly hit by the effects of climate change.”
The popularity of rice was boosted when maize prices plunged to their lowest in 2001.
This coincided with the introduction of a rice species called Nerica 10/14 which were found suitable to suffice.
This in addition to the political will and a 75 percent levy imposed on imported rice boosted its popularity.
But the farmers in Budaka, Gulu and Wakiso attribute the popularity of rice to better harvest mechanisms in place.
“There are cheap threshing machines designed to suit a small scale farmer,” said Jon Kintu in Luwero.
“The machine which used to cost sh10m was redesigned and made better. It is not only cheaper but easy to move through swamps and path by either sex.
Another farmer in Tororo, Jennifer Apio says the different rice species have a different appeal to either men or women.
“The men want the species that is needle sharp because it is preferred on the market,” says Apio.
But most of us mothers want a species which when cooked swells to provide enough food for the family to eat and get satisfied.”
She observes that rice has improved the women and children status in the family as it earns them more purchasing power.
“In the past men used to plant cash crops like cotton and the women dealt with food crops like cassava, maize and bananas.
But rice has transformed this trend.” Apio sums up saying, “There are new species of rice that take between 90-100 days to mature.
These are better than the old type that used to take 140 days.”