In Uganda, rice growing is considered as one of the strategic agricultural enterprises with the potential to contribute to increasing rural incomes and livelihoods and improving food and nutrition security.
However current rice yields are still low a situation partly attributed to the fact that farmers hardly use best agronomy practice to realise good harvest.
But with massive sensitisation work going on and use of improved seed which has been released by breeders is changing the situation with more farmers engaged in growing the crop as a commercial venture.
Speaking to Simon Elibu, a scientist majoring in rice breeding at the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI); this is what he advises farmers to do as they go about with daily routine work of growing rice.
Alibu explained that before rice can be planted, the soil should be in the best physical condition for crop growth and the soil surface is well leveled.
Farmers are expected to till land in time about one month before the rains start. Ploughing and harrowing is done twice before planting seeds.
Traditional method of tilling using hoe and ox plough or modern method of using tractors particularly for large scale farmers owning huge acres of land is recommendable.
Upland rice growing practices
Alibu narrates that farmers growing upland rice are expected to plant rice seed in rows with spacing of 1ft by 1ft.
There are three methods of direct seed planting which include broadcast method where farmers sow seed using hand.
The other method is the metallic drilling method where a line is drilled using metallic fork measuring 30cm by 15cm.
Seed is dropped into the drilled lines and covered and a farmer uses one kilogrammes of seed in a 200 square mile land.
The third method is the dibbling or spot planting mainly practiced along mountain slopes where ploughing is difficult.
Farmers use a metallic hook to make a hole comprising 30cm by 12.5 cm and in each hole seven seeds are dropped and covered with soil.
It takes a week for the seeds to germinate and after three weeks from germination farmers are advised to weed their gardens or farm.
This is the time to apply the first round of fertilizer namely UREA and Diammonium phosphate (DAP) measuring 50 kilogrammes per hectare.
It is better to apply the fertilisers before weeding to allow the weeding process cause it to infiltrate to the soil.
The second fertiliser is applied during the second time of weeding is UREA measuring 50 kilogrammes of per hectare.
The second weeding is done after 50 – 60 days from planting time. Rice takes about 70 days to flower depending on the variety and farmers are expected to start harvesting 30 days from the date of flowering.
Most farmers in the country are growing Nerica rice varieties namely Nerica 1, 4 and 10 which is considered as old generation of rice.
Nerica 4 matures between 110 – 120 days with yield capacity of 4-5 tons per hectare and it is tolerant to drought.
Nerica 2 and 5 are high yielding and it is mostly adopted and grown by farmers in Northern Uganda.
The seed does not break easily meaning there is less loss during processing. A farmer milling 100 kilogramme of harvested seed is able to process 70 kilogrammes.
Nerica 1 matures between 105-115 days and the yield is between three to four tonnes per hectare and it is aromatic while Nerica 10 matures in a short period of 100 -105 days with yield rate of three to four tonnes per hectare.
Nerica 6 is tolerant against Yellow Mortal Virus (YMV) and it matures in 130 – 140 days with yield potential of three to five tonnes per hectare.
Wita 9 variety is high yielding and farmers can harvest five to six tonnes per hectare with maturity period of 140 - 160 days. It is resistant to YMV
Alibu and his breeding team at Namulonge in 2013 released upland varieties namely Namche1, 2, 3, and 4.
Namche 1 is widely adopted because it is early maturing taking 100 days to harvesting.
Farmers engaged in growing lowland rice are expected to prepare nursery beds for raising seedlings. A farmer is expected to heap soil of about one metre wide and sow seed in holes, cover the beds with grass and keep watering for germination to take place.
Farmers must have a good source of water and drainage which will channel water into the field. Seedlings are transplanted after raising them for three weeks.
At the nursery preparation organic manure and fertiliser should be added. The bed should be prepared in 30cm by 60cm trays. Construction of water drainage channels is essential.
The farm for low land rice must be flat to enable even flow of water. The fertiliser is applied on the same day of transplanting.
Usually weeds are not a problem in low land rice growing because the water tends to kill the weeds.
Farmers are therefore expected to weed once and that is 50 days from date of planting and the second fertiliser application should be done after 80 days from date of planting.
Lowland rice takes about 140 to 150 days to mature and farmers grow it in one season.
The recommended varieties released by scientists from NaCRRI include Wita9, Komboka, Agoro and Okile.
Other traditional varieties are K85 and K98 commonly known as Kaiso and Super rice.
Pests and diseases
Farmers face challenge of pests such as stalked eyed flies which feed on the plant tissue causing destruction of stems, string bug and rice bug which suck the juicy panicles thereby staining the grain, termites and snails cut the stems and birds which eat the grains. Farmers may eradicate them by spraying recommended fungicide and human labour for the birds.
The major diseases are rice blast which produces spots on the leaves, rice yellow mortal which makes the leaves turn brown, brown spot, false smut which affect the grain and bacterial blight.
Farmers can get rid of snails by draining water from the farm and in any case the snails eat up rice seedlings which have grown for six weeks and thereafter the plants are safe.
Farmers who are broadcasting chemical spray are advised to restrict the flow to avoid environmental damage to other earth species.
Farmers are advised to harvest their rice when 80 per cent of the farm is looking brown. Any slight delay will enable the seeds to shutter and less rice will be harvested, therefore timely harvesting is recommended. It is advisable to thresh using small machines to avoid breakages. Drying should be done in three to four days on raised racks.
Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate total production of milled rice by 2014 to be 154, 050 metric tonnes and total consumption rate at 215,707 metric tonnes.
The imported rate is 132,316 metric tonnes valued at $45.4 million about (Shs163.8 billon) and the export rate was at 70,659 metric tonnes.