Irrigation schemes: Breathing life into maize, rice farming

For any farmer, neither heavy floods nor long droughts are good for agriculture but the question often eluding answers for any farmer, borders on how to control these natural phenomena especially in the face of climate change

Wednesday May 28 2014


Mubuku and Doho irrigation schemes are some of the largest in the country. Started in the 1960s, they run into difficulties and collapsed. They have been rehabilitated and thriving as Stephen Otage found out.

For any farmer, neither heavy floods nor long droughts are good for agriculture but the question often eluding answers for any farmer, borders on how to control these natural phenomena especially in the face of climate change.

Thomas Ngachebwa, a farmer and head water guard at the newly rehabilitated Mubuku irrigation scheme in Kasese District, believes that this question is no longer a big deal to them.

He belongs to the 150-member Abasaija Kweyamba Mubuku Farming Cooperative Society, who are in business through the year inspite of the weather patterns because the irrigation scheme, which is fed by River Mubuku.
“Dry weather is not a problem. During the dry season, we agree on who starts the irrigation but all the farmers are served. So, all benefit,” he says.

Livingstone Sempala, who has been a member of the scheme since the 1970s, says they have been benefiting from production of seed for seed processing companies.

“We have running contracts with seed companies like Fica and Naseco, where we produce for them rice, maize and vegetable seeds. Every farmer owns eight acres of land,” he says.

Ssempala ended up in Mubuku after training as an extension worker from Bukalasa agricultural training centre. He says after seeing how good the scheme was and the potential to increase his income, he decided to remain there. He now earns between Shs2m-Shs5m per season when he supplies the seeds.

Frank Twinamatsiko, who has been the chairman of the cooperative society for the last fifteen years, reveals that the cooperative has been exporting hot pepper mainly to Europe in addition to producing maize and rice seed.

“After harvesting, we export the hot pepper unprocessed. As for maize and rice, we have contracts with FICA and NASECO seed companies who process the seeds. We export five tons of pepper every week earning us a total of $2m (Shs5b) in a season,” he explains.

The irrigation scheme taps its water from River Mubuku, which is channeled into the 150 eight-acre farms, which have been parceled out to different farmers. The flood irrigation system is used here; it depends on the natural flow, where the water is directed into farms using the farrows found found across the land for the water to have an easy flow into the farms.

Flooding in the farms is controlled using the very same farrows, along which the crops are planted to direct the water to the next channel where it will be required.

According to Ngachebwa, the head water guard, the farmers follow a strict irrigation schedule because the crops do not need water all the time.
“Crops do not require water all the time. Some of them need water twice a week, others need water three times a week,” he explains adding that when one farmer is not in need of the water, others will be irrigating their farms.

Until recently, Butalejja District in eastern Uganda, was the epicentre of rampant land conflicts, which often resulted into loss of land and lives.
According to Sylvia Nanyunja, a senior water officer, Kyoga water management zone, the deadly land conflicts were mainly caused by poor administration of the water from River Manafwa.

When the Directorate of Water Resources management investigated the causes of the conflicts, they found that the demand for water to irrigate the rice gardens was so high but it was not regulated.

“In 2009/2010, the farmers upstream the River Manafwa diverted water into their gardens, depriving the people downstream of water. This caused flooding in their gardens which destroyed their own crops,” Nanyunja says.
She recalls that when the Doho irrigation scheme collapsed in 1997, there was a lot of flooding in Butalejja, which affected all the rice gardens.
David Obong, permanent secretary, Ministry of Water and Environment, who has been steering the committee overseeing the rehabilitation of the scheme, adds that the scheme, which was started in 1965, has been revived at the cost of Shs21b. This was supported by a loan from the African Development Bank, .

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