Farming

How prepared are we for rain-dependent agriculture?

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By Michael J. Ssali

Posted  Wednesday, June 25  2014 at  01:00
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A few weeks ago, the media carried reports of starvation in the Karamoja region and about 50 people were reported to have died because the rains failed and the crops dried up in the fields.

Extreme weather
Yet in Kasese District, a river burst its banks due to excessive rain and a lot of property and crops were washed away as entire communities were displaced.
In Bududa District, in eastern Uganda, in the recent years, we have had issues of landslides. The communities that have lived there for generations are being told to relocate.

With the onset of such extreme weather conditions, agricultural planning has become much harder. This is so especially for farming communities with no good history of rainfall record keeping.
Ironically, rain-fed agriculture (the one that depends on availability of rainfall) is the mainstay of our country’s food production and economic development.

About 90 per cent of our staple food and animal feed production depends on and will continue to depend for a long time on rain-fed agriculture.
Apart from investing more in research to overcome the new diseases that are reducing crop production, we must also invest in research. This should be on what will make our staple crops resistant to the rigours of extreme weather patterns.

Be climate smart
Another challenge will be to educate and to empower our farmers to practice what a recent publication of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation referred to as ‘climate smart agriculture’.
We should invest more in input supply systems and subsidise such items as mineral fertilisers, water pumps, water pipes, water tanks, and all irrigation equipment as well as constructing more community water dams.

Self sufficiency
There is also need for our leaders to pay more attention to what transformed agriculture in many parts of Asia in the last 50 years and see what we could learn from them.
At one time, it is said, we were at the same level of development as many of these countries but they have now gone ahead of us.

We should also look at countries like Malawi where the introduction of subsidies on hybrid maize seed and mineral fertiliser has had a dramatic impact on the country’s self sufficiency in maize production. This has enabled it to export the grain to its neighbours.

E-mail: ssalimichaelj@gmail.com