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Promote agricultural research, fight drought

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th July 2009 03:00 AM

ANALYSTS sometimes describe Uganda’s agriculture as a gamble due to the inappropriate strategies employed to promote it and the inconsistencies in the Government policies. Over 99% of Uganda’s farmers depend on rain, therefore, rain is a very crucial

ANALYSTS sometimes describe Uganda’s agriculture as a gamble due to the inappropriate strategies employed to promote it and the inconsistencies in the Government policies. Over 99% of Uganda’s farmers depend on rain, therefore, rain is a very crucial

By Arthur Makara

ANALYSTS sometimes describe Uganda’s agriculture as a gamble due to the inappropriate strategies employed to promote it and the inconsistencies in the Government policies.

Over 99% of Uganda’s farmers depend on rain, therefore, rain is a very crucial determining factor for Uganda’s agriculture.

One-third of the country’s economic output depends on agriculture. This, implies that our agricultural system remains backward since it is nature-dependent.

It is important to note that rainfall patterns have, over the years, shifted owing to the effects of climate change. Rains have become unpredictable, hence the drought and floods that have devastated the eastern and northern regions.

Presently drought is devastating the livelihoods of the people of Teso, where over 35 lives have been lost.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) predicts that Uganda will see a fall in major crop yields due to climate change.

According to FAO, these changes will affect particularly the poorest as is the case in eastern Uganda yet there is still a window of hope. Agriculture can be tilted in farmers’ favour through supporting science efforts.

Science-based strategies being developed by the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and its partners, for instance, can help dryland farming communities cope with the impacts of climate change.

Scientific studies have shown that poverty is directly linked to water availability and land degradation exacerbates the problem. However, a drought mitigation strategy, developed by NARO and its partners, can break this unholy nexus. NARO’s strategy is based on four key strategies:
First is, developing drought-tolerant and climate change-ready crops to match the available growing seasons and low soil moisture. Supported by the Government, NARO has an advanced laboratory to enhance breeding crops that will solve farmers’ constraints.

In collaboration with local and international partners in maize breeding, NARO recently released three varieties of maize that are relatively drought-tolerant.

In addition, a sorghum variety relatively resistant to drought was released last year. NARO is also partnering with other research systems in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa to produce a genetically modified (GM) maize variety which is resistant to drought.

A site for testing the modified maize variety has already been identified and mapped by NARO at Mubuku Irrigation and Settlement Scheme in Kasese.

At the international level, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation are supporting countries to produce the drought-resistant maize.

However, given the fact that the development of a new variety takes some time, it may take about 10 years to yield results.

The second strategy is to replace vulnerable crops with more drought-tolerant fast-growing crops that thrive and yield well even during water scarcity. These crops mature before soil moisture gets depleted and should be used in drought-prone areas.

Farmers in sorghum growing areas, for example, could plant quicker maturing finger millet varieties. NARO has a number of varieties that mature in a short time and should be utilised to counter the drought.

More funds should be channeled into agro-research to generate more novel technologies for the mitigation of climate change as it is here to stay.

Thirdly, Uganda should efficiently manage natural resources to arrest land degradation, conserve soil moisture and harvest water during the rainy season for supplemental irrigation. This involves a combination of efforts to harness water resources and soil conservation measures.

Some of the measures include, reduced or no tillage, re-forestation, agro-forestry, use of cover crops and mulching. Under the resources allocated for National Agricultural Advisory Services, funds should be invested in installing water harvesting tanks and other soil and water conservation systems for sustainable agriculture.

Water can be harvested, stored in tanks or troughs whenever it rains to be used during drought. This is realistic because many people live uphill and cultivate crops downhill. This gives them an opportunity for gravity flow of water for irrigation.

The Government needs to empower stakeholders by building capacity and enabling rural institutions. Formulating policies that support dryland agriculture is very critical.
Capacity building, in the form of knowledge sharing and strategic partnerships, creates valuable social capital.

Institutional policies such as accessing markets and credit, rural infrastructure and other support services are also urgently needed.

Promote agricultural research, fight drought

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