Growing rice was the best decision he ever made

Kalyowa earns much more from his rice garden than he used to earn when he was growing vegetables

What you need to know:

Unstable prices and oversupply to the market pushed him to seek another crop to grow. Christopher Kalyowa told Fred Muzaale how switching to rice was a wise decision.

I am Christopher Kalyowa, aged 49, a resident of Ssinda village in Kasawo Sub-county, Mukono District. I am a commercial rice farmer and I have been growing upland rice (Nerica 4) since 2000.
But before that, I was growing vegetables like cabbages and tomatoes from which I derived my livelihood. However in 2000, I decided to quit growing vegetables because I discovered that I was incurring losses every season as the prices were always low.

This was because all the other vegetable farmers in the same area were harvesting at the same time, which meant high supply to the market exceeding the demand, hence low prices.
Because vegetables are highly perishable, I was forced to sell them even when the prices were extremely low since I could not store them until prices went up. Because of the fluctuations in prices, I earned little from my labour.
That year, when I visited my uncle in Nfuufu village, in Kayunga District, I narrated to him how I was incurring losses from growing vegetables.
It was at this point that he advised me to try growing rice. From his experience, he had found rice more economically viable than any other crop.
When I accepted to take on the venture, he gave some basic lessons in rice growing, which I found easy. Since it was my first time to grow rice and lacked the experience, I decided to start with a quarter an acre. I went to Farm Supply Shop in Mukono town where I bought five kilogrammes of upland rice at Shs5,000.

I prepared a nursery bed and planted the seeds. After three weeks, the seedlings were ready for transplanting and planted them in a swampy area, I had prepared. I planted them, one foot between each plant.
I grow upland rice on both swampy and dry land, though yields from the former are higher. I did the transplanting myself and I hired a labourer whom I paid Shs50,000 to scare away the birds for a month from the flowering stage.

After three months, the rice matured and was ready for harvesting. I got three bags of unprocessed rice, which I dried for three days, and then took it for hulling.
After that, I remained with one and half bags, which sold at Shs2,900 per kilo and got Shs420,000. I sell my rice to businessmen at hulling machines.

The money I earned, motivated me and this time, I decided to increase on the acreage under rice.

Well paying
This time, I planted five acres and got 600kg of processed rice from which I earned Shs1.7m. Unlike cabbages, the market for rice is available.
On many occasions, the buyers pay me even before harvest. Currently, I have 10 acres of rice from which I hope to earn over Shs8m.

Apart from it being a cash crop, it is a food crop. I have stopped buying food as I used to do. I have now built a permanent house from the proceeds and shifted from the mud-and-wattle house, where I had lived for over 15 years.

I have also managed to comfortably pay school fees for my three children unlike in the past when I struggled to do so.
Though the business is well-paying, there are a number of challenges. There are birds, which can eat almost 30 per cent of the crop, leading to losses sometimes.

This requires labour in form of people to scare away the birds and since people know that rice is marketable, they ask for at least Shs200,000 to guard a five-acre garden.
I also lack proper drying facilities, which force me to dry the rice on rocks and sometimes bare ground, which contaminate rice with stones. This lowers the quality of the rice.

The cost of pesticides I use to spray the rice to control diseases like wilt is expensive. This makes the grains to dry before maturity.

In future, I want to expand the acreage because I have discovered that the bigger the garden, the more profits I get. However when I turn 55, I want to stop growing rice and switch to buying it from farmers.

Overview : The story behind NERICA

Rice is a well-known cereal but what is not well known is that two distinct species are grown, especially in Africa. Long before Asian rice (Oryza sativa) reached Africa’s shores, farmers had domesticated a local species to develop African cultivated rice (O. glaberrima). Thus, its local ancestry and generations of selection adapted it to the environment.

On the other hand, Asian rice has been bred for intensive production and high yield, but outside of the African continent. The first varieties arrived in Africa about 450 years ago, and they have subsequently replaced the local species over much of the rice-cultivated area.
However, despite their popularity (as a result of their higher yields), Asian rices are poorly adapted to many of the African environments.

By 1990, rice breeders realised that they were making little headway in terms of yield, simply because genes for adaptation to African environments were not available in any of the Asian varieties.

Meanwhile, glaberrima varieties continued to be grown in areas where Asian sativas were decimated by disease, pests, drought or soil problems.

Putting the two together
Rice breeders had long dreamed of combining the best traits of the two, but previous attempts had failed. In the early 1990s, they turned to biotechnology in an attempt to overcome the infertility problem. The first of the new rices was available for field testing in 1994. Since then, the techniques have been refined and streamlined, so that many new lines are generated each year.

The best of both worlds
Once the progeny were field tested, it became clear that the dream had come true. As hoped, some combined yield-related traits of the sativa parent with local-adaptation traits from glaberrima.

Basic characteristic of what we have dubbed ‘New Rice for Africa’ (or NERICA) is profuse early vegetative growth giving rapid ground cover, followed by upright growth at reproductive stage.

The profuse tillering is characteristic of glaberrima. The rapid ground cover enables the crop to smother, and therefore out-compete, weeds. Upright growth, especially at reproductive stage, is a characteristic of sativa; it enables the plant to support heavy seed heads—the African species has weak flower- and seed-bearing stems which are prone to falling over (or lodging) before harvest.

In addition, other advantageous traits from glaberrima that occur in some progeny are:
n Early maturity—NERICAs mature in 90–100 days, compared to improved upland sativas that mature in 120–140 days in West Africa—this is another layer of defence against weeds
Drought tolerance
n Resistance to African rice gall midge, the region’s most devastating insect pest, to rice yellow mottle virus, a major disease in lowland rice, and blast disease Taste, aroma and other grain qualities favoured by farmers.
Meanwhile, the sativa parents have also given of their best to the NERICAs:

n Non-shattering grains—not only do glaberrima panicles lodge, their grains shatter too
n Secondary branches on panicles—more branches, more grains.
n Responsiveness to mineral fertilisation.
n Even better, Hybridisation is known to generate heterosis, or hybrid vigour—a condition in which a progeny is ‘better’ than either of its parents.

Source: Africa Rice Centre