How to handle maize very carefully  

William Koros in his maize farm. When using drip irrigation system in farming, one should ensure the soil is wet to get high yields in the long run. file PHOTO.

What you need to know:

  • Garden where maize is to be planted should be well tilled and free of weeds. Farmers are advised to use fertilisers, especially organic fertilisers. 

Maize is not only a food crop; it is also a cash crop. Therefore it must be very carefully handled by farmers, traders, and all the other stakeholders along the maize value chain.

About 92 percent of Uganda’s households consume maize flour and the annual per capita consumption is 22 kilogrammes, according to figures from “State of Maize Flour Fortification in Uganda – SPRING.”

In Kenya where it is consumed as githeri or sima, the annual per capita maize consumption is a lot higher at between 93 and 103 kilogrammes. (Source: The Maize Value Chain in Kenya, June 2020 CG Space) Tanzania’s annual per capita maize consumption is 112.5 kilogrammes and the country is estimated to consume three million tonnes of maize every year. (Characterisation of Maize Producing Households in Manyoriand ---)

Maize production 
Peter Bamwesigye, principal agricultural officer in Lwengo District, says good maize production begins with seed selection. “Farmers should have a budget for buying good seeds from recognised and registered farm supply shops,” he says. 

“Hybrid maize seeds are by far higher yielding than the seeds which farmers save from previous harvests. Improved seeds are bred to be not only high yielding but also early maturing and tolerant to some harsh weather conditions such as drought and even resistant to some pests and diseases. Most farmers get low yields because they don’t pay sufficient attention to the maize seeds that they plant,” says Bamwesigye. 

Improved seeds
There is a wide variety of improved maize seeds in Uganda and various zones in which the different varieties are suitable for planting. Specific number of seeds to be planted per hole and the right spacing are normally indicated on the bags or packages containing the seeds. Bamwesigye also emphasised the importance of good ground preparation. 

“Many unscrupulous farmers just dig holes and plant maize before removing the weeds. They then proceed to spray pesticides over the weeds expecting that the weeds will have died before the germination of the seeds. Yet many weeds take much longer to die,” says Bamwesigye.

Best practices 
He said the garden where maize is to be planted should be well tilled and free of weeds. He advised farmers to use fertilisers, especially organic fertilisers. Farmers should regularly consult agricultural extension officers about which fertilisers to use and how to apply them. Farmers should ensure that they wear protective gear when handling fertilisers and all agrochemicals. Organic fertilisers of mainly livestock origin must be viewed as rotting excreta and possible habitat of harmful germs.

He went on to emphasise the importance of timely planting. “Maize requires constant rainfall for all its growing period and farmers should therefore sow the seeds at the beginning of the rains,” he said. “The planting should be done in straight lines to allow for easier crop inspection and weeding. “Weeding must also be done on time to avoid competition for soil nutrients between maize and weeds.” 

He further emphasised that the farmers should guard against common pests and insects. The common pests include the maize stalk borer which feeds on young leaves and drills holes through them.

The fall army worm is another nuisance apart from the spotted stalk borer. They are advised to ensure that they seek guidance from area agricultural services extension service providers about which pesticides to use and how to apply them on the crops.

Use of pesticides 
There is an emerging debate about the possibility of much reduced use of pesticides if farmers grow crops genetically engineered to be pest resistant. 

Uganda has not yet made it possible for farmers to grow such crops but our neighbor, Kenya, has already allowed farmers to plant genetically engineered crops including maize.

Bamwesigye said maize should be harvested when it fully mature and it should not stay for too long in the field when it is dry because it will then be eaten by birds and other maize eating insects or spoiled by rain. 

Usually maize is ready for harvesting if the stalks are dry and the maize cobs and leaves are facing downwards. Moist conditions cause molding of the crop which makes it unsafe for eating. Bamwesigye insisted that harvested maize must be stored in dry conditions. 

“Moist conditions lead to the formation of mould and aflatoxins which cause big health problems to consumers of the grain. “In cases where the maize is not to be stored for a long period the farmers should make sure it is thoroughly dried --- at moisture content of 12-13 percent. The drying of maize must be done on clean cemented ground or on mats or tarpaulins.”

The “The East African Maize Grain Standard in Uganda” attaches a lot of importance to the joint involvement of all members of the farming household in the maize crop ownership. When all the family members view the crop as their valued property, they will always guard it to ensure it is well produced. They will protect it from rain and domestic animals and birds. They will not dry it on the bare ground where it may pick aflatoxins and bad smells.

When domestic animals and birds gain access to maize that is spread out in the yard to dry, they might tramp over it and break the grain and they may also defecate on the maize and introduce bad smells.

Traders prefer to buy well sorted maize that is of the same colour and free of any foreign material and smells.  

The farmer should also remove shriveled grains. For those who can afford it, harvested maize should be stored in a crib because they are constructed with rat guards and they are well aerated.  

He said small scale farmers should purchase what he referred to as pics bags made to protect grain by suffocation of pests. The bags are tied tightly and keep out oxygen that would be used by the pests.

Shelling or removal of maize from the cob must be done with care. Beating maize with sticks often results in broken grain which will be rejected by maize buyers. 

For small scale producers removal of maize grain from cobs should be done by hand.  But large scale farmers may use motorized machines to shell the maize and always on tarpaulin. 

Peter Bamwesigye, principal agricultural officer of Lwengo District discourages farmers from rushing to purchase pesticides to preserve stored maize grain. 

“It is important to seek guidance from agricultural services extension officers on how to use any agrochemicals, particularly fumigants. The pesticides are poisonous since they are manufactured to kill living organisms. Their usage to protect grain from pest attack must be most carefully done.”

Gerald Sendaula who is a prominent maize farmer says the capacity by farmers to store maize will go a long way to increase farmers’ profits because they will not be compelled to sell the crop in a hurry and at low prices.