By John Agaba
POOR post-harvest handling and inadequate on-farm storage facilities have been singled out as some of the major bottlenecks affecting the quality and quantity of food produced in the country.
Ruth Nankabirwa, the state minister for fisheries, said on Monday many farmers lacked the necessary hands-on skills and expertise to properly handle and store their produce after harvest, a challenge that was trickling down to food insecurity as lots of produce was wasted.
She said the agriculture ministry was in consultation with the public service ministry to increase the number of agriculture extension officers in the field to help avert this ‘ignorance-caused’ challenge.
Beatrice Byarugaba, the commissioner crop production and marketing (ministry of agriculture) said Uganda produces about 2.3 million metric tonnes of maize and about 900,000 metric tonnes of beans annually, but that the country would be producing a lot more if there was quality improvement in the way seeds are handled after harvest.
“A lot of produce is spoilt after harvest. Many farmers don’t know how to store their produce. They just store. And when they want to sell or to collect some seeds for planting, they find weevils have spoilt almost the entire granary. They don’t know how to carefully remove the maize from the cobs,” Consolata Acayo, the ministry’s principal information scientist said.
This was during a press briefing on a maize and beans stakeholders meeting slated for Tuesday at Speke Resort Munyonyo.
“The platform will try to address the challenges maize and beans farmers face and how these can be resolved,” Chris Kaijuka, the chairman of the maize and beans platform told journalists at the Media Centre on Monday.
Nankabirwa said yields for beans have been going down; during the eight-year period (1999–2006), the mean yield fell by 64% from 988,000 to 358,000 metric tonnes.
She said that the high cost of production in terms of seed purchasing, preparing the land, and use of improved technologies like fertilizers, has limited some farmers to only subsistence production which limits their capacity.
“Soils in many parts of Uganda especially in the South West have undergone degradation due to over use. These soils need replenishment,” Nankabirwa said.
She urged farmers to use more of hybrid seeds that are more pest resistant than the ordinary. “Our climate is changing; there is global warming; our soils are losing fertility, we cannot afford to remain behind,” she said.
Asked about media reports linking the death of about 20 people in Napak district to hunger, Nankabirwa said she was not in position to comment about the topic.
“Uganda is the most food secure country in the region. Yes, we have poor distribution where some areas have surplus over others, but people don’t die of hunger,” Nankabirwa said.