Two years ago, 19-year-old Jackson Nasasira grew tobacco in his village in Hoima District.
He made colossal losses after failing to offload the bags he had onto the market. There was no demand.
Youthful Nasasira then took up tomato growing. “When I was 19, I planted a lot of tobacco and did not know what to do with it. I could not eat it. Last year I started on tomatoes and have so far harvested three times. Tomatoes grow very fast,” he narrates.
The story repeats itself with Innocent Kaija, a farmer also in Hoima who abandoned tobacco growing for tomatoes. He owns two acres of land on which he grows different varieties of tomatoes. Thanks to his work on the farm, Kaija is constructing a modern house in the village.
Kaija and Nasasira are some of the thousands of people employed in the agriculture sector in the district in agriculture. Uganda is an agricultural economy employing more than 70 per cent of the population.
However, farming in today’s environment is no small feat. For instance, the Office of the Prime Minister put out a warning notice highlighting a wave of floods expected to drench parts of the country.
Challenges such as pests, new and exotic diseases, lack of funding, effects of climate change and poor seed varieties are still inhibiting sustainable agriculture.
Effectively, research in the sector has been very instrumental in curbing some of these challenges.
For instance, East West Seed, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, in collaboration with the Wageningen Center for Development Innovation, the World Vegetable Centre and NARO-Uganda are implementing a one-year pilot project on vegetable production in Uganda.
The project which started in October last year implemented in Hoima District, Kyabugambire Sub-county, looks at collaborating on participatory crop improvement, conservation of agro biodiversity and adaptation to climate change.
According to Ms Annet Kiiza, knowledge transfer manager for Uganda at East West Seed International, the crowd sourcing project also aims at testing different seed varieties to determine their performance in different situations.
“We have Padima variety which is very good and resistant and it’s off shelf life is very good. When it comes to cabbage, we have indica which has a very big bud and is one of the most sought after. For pumpkins, there is Pujita which is equally good,” she noted.
Mr Kaija who is one of the 700 farmers benefitting from this project has reaped from advanced seed varieties of the tomatoes.
“Compared to the local variety, Padima is doing well. Per plant it bares between 70 and 150 fruits while the local variety gives between 7 and 15. The local variety has also faced a lot of challenges such as wilt,” he says. Embracing research in the agricultural sector boost sustainability of the economic activity.
For instance Padima variety, Ms Annet says, has a six month shelf life meaning farmers have half a year to look for market for the tomatoes before counting losses.
Mr Ronnie Vernooy, genetic resources policy specialist from Alliance of Bioversity International says the idea of diversity of seed varieties is centred on climate change.
“We are very concerned about what is going on in Uganda and other countries. It is getting drier and hotter. Farmers are having difficulty in growing crops the way they used to do,” he says, adding that a lot of research goes on in producing better varieties. According to Vernooy, research in vegetables is consuming.
“With vegetables you need to look at soil management, plant and disease management and water management,” he says.
Successful vegetable farming
1. Only use top quality seed.
2. Provide daily attention and care to the plants.
3. Intervene quickly when a problem arises, eg a pest or disease.
4. Maintain the field clean from weeds, invasive plants and rubbish.
5. Harvest, consume and sell on time.