Saturday October 6 2018

Scientists hatch plans to increase maize production by 30 per cent

A farmer tills his maize garden. To have a food

A farmer tills his maize garden. To have a food secure Africa, more maize must be grown and handled properly after harvesting. Photo by Lominda Afedraru 

By Lominda Afedraru

Maize farmers continue to lose in times of bumper harvests.
However, scientists engaged in developing improved varieties at the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Namulonge are looking at available options to reverse this painful trend. To them the production of maize and other priority crops such as rice and beans is inadequate as far as commercialisation and satisfying the export market is concerned.

NaCRRI is working with partners under Technologies for Africa Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) with an aim to boost maize production by 30 per cent in order to make Africa food secure and gain a sizeable share in the export market.
This project covers Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Dr Jonas Chianu from Africa Development Bank, who is coordinating the project, explains that funding worth $120 million (Shs457b) has so far been allocated for nine priority commodities with $40 million (Shs152b) already dispatched to the beneficiaries.
The idea is to increase productivity of the priority crops like maize, beans and rice using science. This means farmers will be sensitised on how to adopt high yield nutrient varieties, particularly hybrid and bio fortified varieties.
Dr Grace Abalo, the focal person for Uganda in charge of improved maize production, points out that a team of scientists is on the lookout for farmers using best practices to improve productivity, harvest and post-harvest practices as well as marketing and distribution.

She explains that maize is among the 15 strategic commodities that have been selected for the project considering returns it creates on investment, priority within agro-ecological zones and the number of households involved in growing the crop as well as contribution to exports and potential future impact it can cause to the economy.
Uganda is the eighth largest producer of maize in Africa and third in East Africa.
The production area for maize is 1.15 million hectares with a production of 2.7 million metric tonnes. An estimated 75 per cent of maize production and 70 per cent of marketable surplus attributed to smallholder farmers.

Production
Dr Abalo explains that the project will target farmers to use existing technologies developed by the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) to boost production and this includes use of water efficient maize varieties, striga-resistant and herbicide tolerant maize varieties as well as observing seeding/planting density and seed rate.
Farmers engaged in growing rice are expected to use Nerica 6, Komboka, WITA9, Agoro and Okile and NamChe‐2, NamChe‐3, NamChe‐4, NamChe‐5, and NamChe‐6.
Agronomic package will involve fertiliser use, herbicide weed management, timings, land preparation, insect and pest control and disease management.

Harvest, postharvest practices and storage
Abalo points out that most farmers in Uganda harvest maize when the moisture content is as high as 18 per cent, thereby causing 900 tonnes of maize loss.
She says the right practice is to harvest maize with moisture content of at least 16 per cent although the recommended rate is 13 per cent.
This is achievable by using raised platforms or solar dryers especially during wet season.

Farmers will be sensitised on how to get over the old age harvesting practices by using affordable combined harvesting and medium size millers.
Storage facilities such as metallic silos will be required and the harvest must be protected against insects and weevils using the right insecticides.
Farmers must have central storage warehouses sand they must have a linkage with grain aggregators to ensure good prices for their produce.

The plan
Farmers will be expected to produce and market in bulk both within the country and for export.
The project aims to strengthen partnerships with seed companies, input dealers, processors who should be in position to purchase grains at farm gate and at reasonable prices.

Farmers will be linked with output markets, and linkages will be made directly to buyers or buyers’ agents.
Farmers will also be availed with any market information and in case of bumper harvest; they will be expected to store their produce and wait for the right time to sell.
The government is expected to step in to consolidate regional market integration where it should be responsible to purchase maize and export to its neighboring countries.

Impact of the project
Dr Gospel Omanya from Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) who will implement the project explains that at the end of the project, scientists will expect increased profit margins in the maize value chain through improved market linkages, value adding activities and agribusiness training and incubation.
The project is expected to have reached at least two million households; 12 million farm family members in the 12 countries.
It also aims at increasing maize productivity by at least 30 per cent, enhance incomes by at least 20 per cent for those households involved in the maize value chain, at least 40 per cent-women and 25 per cent youth involvement in the maize value chain by 2021.

An extra 12 million tonnes of maize grain will be generated from the maize value chain.
The current maize production for Uganda is at 2.5 tonnes per hectare which is expected to increase to 3.2 tonnes in the same acreage.
Dr Chianu noted that currently Africa is spending $131 trillion on food imports and TAAT is aiming to alter this.
He says by 2030, Africa should be in position to feed the entire world because of its arable land.

Big boost
The project is expected to have reached at least two million households; 12 million farm family members in the 12 countries, increase maize productivity by at least 30 per cent, enhance incomes by at least 20 per cent for those households involved in the maize value chain, at least 40 per cent women and 25 per cent youth involvement in the maize value chain by 2021 and an extra 12 million tonnes of maize grain generated from the Maize value chain.
The current maize production for Uganda is at 2.5 tonnes per hectare which is expected to increase to 3.2 tonnes in the same acreage.

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