It is possible for farmers in Uganda to engage in modern farming using the available technologies on a small piece of land for better output and increased income. And this applies to any farmer as long as one has passion for what he or she is doing.
In modern faming what farmers mainly drive at is to make it commercial whether on a small or bigger piece of land.
For better monitoring of the farm, record keeping of farm products ranging from crops, animal husbandry, fish farming and poultry among others is key.
Size does not matter
Dr Emma Naluyima, a veterinary doctor, who has her farm at Bwerenga in Wakiso District, is of the view that Ugandan farmers must come out of peasantry method of farming to go commercial so as to compete with the farmers in other parts of the world.
She was speaking at Ag Content Café, a monthly informal interaction of journalists and professionals in agriculture or agribusiness. It is an initiative of the Usaid Feed the Future Agricultural Inputs Activity,
“Modern farming is not about acreage as claimed by many farmers in most African countries including Uganda. Once a farmer manages his or her farm well on a small piece of land she or he will always reap good yields. Those in Ankole were pastoralists but now they are keeping their cattle in paddocks,” she said.
One of the technologies adapted by Naluyima involves growing fodder using hydroponic systems. It is a method of growing plants without soil but the crop survives on moisture and other nutrients provided during the growing period.
There are many advantages like a greater yield over a shorter period of time in a smaller area than traditionally- grown crops.
The technology ensures a reduction in use of pesticides and herbicides because the plants are in a protected environment.
Farmers tend to use this technology in a year-round growing system that produces a consistent quantity and quality of plant material, fodder for livestock feed being one of them.
Naluyima uses a hydroponic fodder- making machine to make feed for her animals mainly pigs. And she uses a computer package called Pig Champ for monitoring and recording keeping on her pig farm.
This works just like a how a mathematician would use the calculator in his or her arithmetic calculations.
“This technology will enable the farmer to access all the information about the pigs in the farm because it is complete file, it gives instant messages to farmer to check on his or pigs to monitor their health and what right medication to give in case of sickness or the right feed,” she explained.
Different animals have different packages of such technologies but for crops and dairy cattle, Naluyimba is still using computer packages like MS Excel to do the record keeping.
To her it is not enough to say I am a farmer, but attach value to it and determine your own price of the farm commodities not the buyer.
Guidelines to follow
“Nomads have a lot of cattle and need vast land to graze them, yet the pasture and water is also lacking. In modern farming, farmers do not need all that chunk of land. For instance, on my farm, I have less than five acres of land but I have separated it into decimals for matooke, piggery and dairy farming,” Naluyima said.
“I have realised that half an acre is producing more yields than what is produced on a vast chunk of land besides not spending a lot on labour. If I don’t have a worker, I can do it myself.”
She went ahead to explain guidelines that farmers can follow in modern farming; listing them as ethics and genetics, feeding, and management.
In ethics and genetics, she urged farmers to know what type of farming one would like to engage in.
“When it comes to handling issues of genetics as a farmer, you must know the genes of your animals, crop varieties, and poultry as well as fish species.
In case of the East African highland banana commonly known as matooke, look for varieties from which you can harvest good yields. If you know the gene of your animals, this will enable you to appropriately feed them; the right feed and right amount of water,” she added.
Know the type
In feeding animals and crops, the farmer must know the science about the embryo and things such as artificial insemination.
It is better for the farmer to know which type of crop variety has good characteristics. It could be a tissue-cultured or grafted variety or those bred using biotechnology.
Some farmers may prefer to feed the animals using hydroponic fodder and if a farmer gives his or her cow good feed, he or she will realise that it will have quality beef and quality milk.
Good agronomy practice for plants such as use of manure, drip irrigation in case of draught is also a better alternative.
In farm management, the farmer must think about housing his or her animals as well as harvested crop varieties
Here, farmers is expected to consider issues of biosecurity and use the right drug with animals or the right fertiliser in the case of crops.
For farmers, who may not afford expensive technologies, the use of smart phones is so important. All in all, Dr Naliyima urged elite farmers to share knowledge with the rural farmers so as to make the farming modern and be able to compete with the rest of the farmers globally.
What first timers need to know before going commercial farming
Dr Emma Naluyima is not just a professional veterinarian but a successful commercial farmer. Although she encourages, particularly the youth and the elite, to take up commercial farming, she warns that it comes with a combination of hard work and thinking smart.
Modern farming is about making money and anything less than that is not good enough. She says: “If you don’t attach money to farming then you are not doing anything.”
Speaking to journalists who cover farming and agricultural issues at Ag Content Café, Dr Naluyima argues that commercial farming thrives best with technology. And she has embraced it to good effect.
Over the years, she has established herself as a successful commercial farmer in piggery, fish and vegetables farming (under a greenhouse arrangment), and banana plantations—all on less than five acres of land but yielding marvelously.
“With technology, you can maximise land use as you increase the yield as well compared to a farmer who has acres of land but using rudimentary methods of farming,” she observes.
As if sounding a warning, Dr Naluyima advises that it is always important to start small and keep growing progressively; she says it has worked for her and it is bound to work for anyone as well as it a tested model.
“Like any other business you must have the passion to make it work and grow,” Naluyima argues.
“I find it strange for one to claim to be a commercial farmer and spends a week or two without visiting his or her farm.”
This is worsened by the fact that some people venturing into commercial farming do so without knowledge of what they want to do. So, it is important that you decide what you want to do—either going for dairy farming or rearing commercially for beef.
Coupled with the aforementioned, Naluyima further outlines three things—genetics, feeding and management, which she believes defines commercial farming at least for starters—those venturing for the first time.
“Always be aware of the genetics. This is because there are different breeds for different purposes. For example not all cows give milk the same way,” she warns.
“It is useless to have the right animal (genetics) and you don’t feed it. Or having piece of land that you don’t enrich it with manure and fertilisers yet you routinely expect massive yields.”
Where most commercial farmers go wrong, according to Dr Naluyima, is in management. With good management, she says you will always have an edge. She wonders why people claiming to be commercial farmers, especially those starting out for the first time do not stay in their farm but use the phone to monitor what goes on.
A clear plan
“Staying around will allow you to learn so many things that you would not have known while using your phone to give instructions,” she says.
Part of management, she adds, includes good book-keeping for that distinguishes between commercial farmers and a mere farmer of the old mould who predominantly grows food for consumption or survival.
In an earlier interaction with Dick Bugingo, the owner of Agdi Dairy Farm in Kiruhura District, it became obvious that to succeed one must have a clear plan on how he or she not only wants to move but gain financially.
“With my calculator I work out the expenses involved then take a decision on how I would like to move. This is because at the end of the day, you are in it to make money and that means you must not just be shrewd but also prudent,” noted Bugingo.